A specially designed smartphone game called ‘Sea Hero Quest’ can detect people at the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, say researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
The game, downloaded and played by over 4.3 million people worldwide, helped researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) better understand dementia by seeing how the brain works in relation to spatial navigation.
The game has been developed by Deutsche Telekom in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, University College London (UCL) and the University of East Anglia.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys memory and other important mental functions. It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases.
“Dementia will affect 135 million people worldwide by 2050. We need to identify people to reduce their risk of developing dementia,” said Lead researcher Professor Michael Hornberger from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
As players made their way through mazes of islands and icebergs, the research team translated every 0.5 seconds of gameplay into scientific data. The team studied how people who are genetically pre-disposed to Alzheimer’s play the game compared with those who are not.
The results, published in the journal PNAS, showed people genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer’s can be distinguished from those who are not on specific levels of the Sea Hero Quest game.
The findings are particularly important because a standard memory and thinking test cannot distinguish between the risk and non-risk groups. “Our findings show we can reliably detect such subtle navigation changes in at-genetic-risk of Alzheimer’s compared with healthy people without any symptoms or complaints,” said Hornberger.
The team studied gaming data taken from 27,108 UK players, aged 50-75 years and the most vulnerable age-group to develop Alzheimer’s in the next decade. They compared this benchmark data with a smaller lab-based group of 60 people who underwent genetic testing.