There’s still no treatment for dementia and it may well be a long time before we find a cure, but you can give researchers a massive helping hand simply by playing a free mobile game. If 100,000 people play Sea Hero Quest for just two minutes, they say they could gain the same amount of data as they would through 50 years of laboratory-based research.
The game is the brainchild of scientists from University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer's Research UK, while it was built by Glitchers. Sea Hero Quest is based around a character who’s on a mission to find the sea creatures his ageing sea explorer father once discovered.
The challenges are straightforward -- mainly involving the navigation of a ship to predetermined areas -- but fitting, as early signs of dementia can include a difficulty with finding your way around familiar places. You’re prompted to answer a small handful of basic questions every now and then, though the game's creators say that all of information generated will be anonymised and stored securely.
"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,” said UCL neuroscientist Dr Hugo Spiers. “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.
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“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.”