Wed, Aug 30, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Scientists use computer game to study Alzheimer’s


Sea Quest Hero is more than just the usual computer game in which players find their way through mazes, shoot and chase creatures — it also doubles as scientists’ latest tool for studying Alzheimer’s disease.

The game — downloadable as of yesterday in its virtual reality version — seeks to stimulate players’ brains through a series of tasks based on memory and orientation skills, while gathering data to research dementia.

One of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is loss of navigational skills, but data comparing cognitive response across a broad spectrum of ages is rare, and this is what the game seeks to provide.

The game — billed as the “largest dementia study in history” — has been developed by Deutsche Telekom, Alzheimer’s Research UK and scientists from University College London and the University of East Anglia.

The mobile version, which came out last year, has already been downloaded 3 million times in 193 countries.

Playing the game for just two minutes, the Web site said, generates the same amount of data scientists would take five hours to collect in similar lab-based research.

With the equivalent of 63 years already played, scientists now have about 9,500 years worth of dementia research to go through.

“That gave us an enormous amount of information and it really allowed us to understand how men and women of different ages navigate in the game,” said David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Resolving the tasks requires the use of “different parts of your brain and different parts of your brain are used in different ways by different types of dementia — so it allows us to link what someone can do to what is going on in their brain,” Reynolds added.

“The headset technology is helping to track where the person is looking at all times as well as where they’re going,” said Lauren Presser, one of the game’s producers. “So we get to know whether people are lost and how they behave in those situations... Every single one of those experiments is helping us gather data around spatial navigation.”

Reynolds said playing the game could in itself help with prevention.

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