Play Mobile Game To Help Dementia Research

Members of the public are being invited to join the battle against dementia by downloading and playing a video game on their mobile devices.

Every person who plays Sea Hero Quest will be doing their bit to help scientists understand how the typical human brain navigates.

Early signs of dementia can include the loss of spatial awareness and a difficulty with navigation in familiar places.

By using the video game to gather information from tens of thousands of healthy brains, researchers at University College London will try to establish what is a 'normal' pattern of behaviour.

UCL neuroscientist Dr Hugo Spiers says the game "simulates navigation". 

Dementia Thomas Moore explainer image

"It's a game in which you have to find different sea monsters and while you're trying to find these sea monsters, the game tracks where you are in the world and which direction you are facing.

"That information about where you are gets relayed back to our science team where we crunch through that data to try and benchmark how everybody playing the game is navigating.

"We're hoping to learn from the data how well people do at different ages, across men and women, and different places in the world and that will give us this really wonderful database.

"This is something nobody has ever done before and I'm very proud that we're doing this in the UK.

"For me, this is going to be a revolution to how we do this type of work. It's citizen science. Every one of my friends - every one of your friends, I hope - will contribute to helping us fight dementia."

Developers of the game claim that if 100,000 people play it for two minutes, it will generate the same amount of data as 50 years of similar, laboratory-based research.

The game is split up into five different themed areas and the central character is a sea explorer who sets out on a journey through labyrinthine environments to recover and record the memories of his ageing father.

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK told Sky News: "We know people spend hours and hours on their mobile phones, so the challenge was: how can we convert some of those hours - or even some of those minutes - to actually help answer one of the biggest medical conditions we face?

"There's no treatment for dementia and we are a long way from finding a cure. To get there we need research and we need data that doesn't yet exist. This game will give us that data."

Rise in elderly deprivation bids

This is not the first time that scientists have asked members of the public for help by playing computer games.

Last year, Cancer Research UK released a puzzle app which involved spotting patterns within cell samples, saving researchers hundreds of hours but there has never been a dementia study on this scale.

The free game - available from the App Store and Google Play - was designed by scientists from University College London, University of East Anglia, Alzheimer's Research UK and game creators Glitchers.

They say gamers can be certain that all of the information generated through the game will be anonymised and stored securely.

Former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips - whose father suffered with Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years - attended last night's launch of Sea Hero Quest at UCL.

She told Sky News: "Only research can help and change the way we look at dementia and also help to halt it or at least slow it down.

"Some people have super-advanced brains and some people's (brains) work much slower but dementia can affect any brain. How does that happen and why does that happen?

"We'll start to understand at what point the brain starts to lose its facility to have spatial awareness and, with that, the understanding of what made that change."

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