New Smartphone Game Could Help Doctors Diagnose Dementia

New Smartphone Game Could Help Doctors Diagnose Dementia
Technology & Health

There are games and apps for smartphones that claim to be able to help users sleep, eat properly, and train their brains, many of which have been disproven. But it appears that a new game on the iOS and Android market could help doctors diagnose patients with dementia.

Sea Hero Quest is the game, and it requires players to navigate courses to find pieces of a missing map. You must locate precious artifacts – in this case, memories – by collecting them from different locations all around the world.

The routes that players take will generate global “heat maps” that will show scientists how people tend to explore 3-D environments.

As you progress through the game, the data you generate gives scientists input into your spatial navigation abilities, which is one of the first skills a person loses when he/she first develops dementia. [1]

The goal is to get hundreds of thousands of smartphone users to play the game so that researchers can identify what the normal range of navigation skills are among people in general. At that point, neuroscientists could identify further guidelines to spot dementia early. Researchers hope that at least 100,000 people will play the game by the end of 2016.

Read: 6 More Ways to Prevent Dementia and Boost Brain Power

In a statement, Alzheimer’s Research UK, which teamed up with Deutsche Telecom and scientists from University College of London and the University of East Anglia, said:

“Playing the game will help our scientists understand in detail how our brains navigate space, and help to build the largest crowd-sourced database on human spatial navigation.

Playing the game for just a few minutes will provide this completely anonymous data to help improve our understanding of navigational cognition. We’ll create a benchmark to help determine what goes wrong in the brain for people with dementia.” [2]

Scientists believe that dementia might be preventable in about 1/3 of cases, yet there is no accurate diagnostic test for a severe decline in mental ability. Worldwide, more than 46 million people were living with dementia in 2015, and a reliable diagnostic tool could help reduce that number, slow the progression of dementia, and provide more information on how to prevent it.

World Alzheimer’s Report 2015 Source: Bupa

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, told CNN:

“Dementia is increasingly becoming 1 of the greatest medical challenges we face globally. It is a disease you can prevent…it’s not an inevitable part of aging.”

This isn’t the first time that scientists have used video games to crowdsource data. Five games have been launched by Cancer Research UK, including Play to Cure: Genes in Space in 2014. That game obtained data on players as they traveled virtually through space and helped identify codes and patterns along the way, all without realizing it.


[1] BBC News

[2] Economic Times