Spotting these early signs can extremely beneficial, as different forms of treatment have a higher chance of working the sooner the disease is detected. Sea Hero Quest is also helping identify people who may be at risk of Alzheimer’s but aren’t currently suffering any major symptoms of the disease.
Sea Hero Quest was developed in partnership with German’s Deutsche Telekom, British game studio Glitchers, and several European universities. It was designed to identify people who show early and mild symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s that medical tests are unable to detect.
The VR game involves navigating and controlling a virtual boat, in a quest to help a son recover his father’s memories. Players are shown a map with checkpoints that is later removed. This means that players must remember the map, in order to locate the checkpoints.
The title was developed to help researchers understand more about 3D navigation, one of the first skills lost due to dementia. As more people have played the game, more and more research has been collected.
A recent study reports that assessing the behavior of players provides a means of identifying healthy aging compared with those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It can now be employed as a benchmark to spot differences in brain function on an individual level.
Researchers say that every two minutes spent playing the game are equal to five hours of lab-based research. A large part of this is due to the amount of data collected by the game.
Sea Hero Quest has been out since 2016 and has been downloaded by over three million players. By analyzing the data, the research team has amassed the equivalent of 1,700 years of research data on Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Researcher’s involved with the project studied those who carry the APOE4 gene, which is thought to increase their risk of developing Alzheimer’s and then compared their results to those who don't carry the gene. Using this data, they were able to create a baseline that can be used for comparison.
The team hopes that this will mean that the game can be used as an early screening tool, which would help identify those who may need treatment before the major symptoms begin to appear.