A video game developed to detect Alzheimer's disease appears to be working


Sea Hero is a video game developed in partnership with Germany's Deutsche Telekom, the Glitchers gaming studio and several European universities and is designed to identify individuals who may have early and mild dementia symptoms that medical tests can not detect.

When most people think of Alzheimer's disease, they think of a disease that ruins a person's memory. But while memory problems are very common and serious with Alzheimer's disease, these are symptoms of advanced stage. Researchers and doctors want to catch the disease as soon as possible, before memory loss occurs, to give future treatments the best chance to work.

Sea Hero was built as a way to identify people who may be at risk for Alzheimer's but who are not yet suffering any major symptoms of the disease and according to a study recently published in the journal PNAS it seems that the game is effective.

In Sea Hero, which is a virtual reality game, players need to navigate and control a virtual boat. They get a map and show the checkpoints, so the map is removed and players must navigate to these checkpoints in the game world without the map.

According to researchers, every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of laboratory-based research. Because Sea Hero is out for a few years and downloaded and played by more than three million players, they have collected the equivalent of 1,700 years of Alzheimer's research data.

Researchers involved with the project studied people who carried the APOE4 gene, which supposedly increases the risk of developing dementia, since they played the game. They then compared the results of those people to the results of people who played the game who did not have that gene.

"We found that people with high genetic risk, APOE4 carriers, performed worse on space navigation tasks. They have taken less efficient routes for checkpoint goals, "said team member Professor Michael Hornberger.

Using data collected from thousands of players who downloaded and played Sea Hero, the researchers were able to create a baseline with which the test results could be compared. In the future, the team hopes that this data and the game will help identify those who need treatment for dementia before they begin to suffer from some of the worst symptoms of the late stage.


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