Alzheimer is a neurodegenerative disease that has become a problematic public health issue around the world, affecting millions of (mainly) third-aged people in every country, and it’s this kind of problems the ones that motivate scientists and doctors and boosts their creativity and cleverness in finding new ways to solve health problems, so this time what came to their mind was no other thing than video games.
Sea Hero Quest is the game developed by the British video games company Glitchers in association with Alzheimer’s Research UK, University College London and University East with funds from Deutsche Telekom from Germany. The purpose of the game is helping doctors and researchers to detect signs of Alzheimer before the disease starts causing signs of memory loss or other significant symptoms in patients, so the possibility to use various treatments exists.
It is a VR game where players have to control a boat that will be used to navigate through different checkpoints marked to the player on a map that is then taken away, testing their spatial navigation ability, being its degeneration one of the significant problems in AD. According to the researchers player’s score can be correlated to the risk of developing Alzheimer or not.
The idea came up after subtle navigation became a critical factor for the detection of preclinical Alzheimer, but even though researches knew that there was a lack of individual differences like sex, presence of APOE and age in the data possessed by the scientist, meaning they knew that subtle navigation changes occurred before the manifestation of major symptoms, but they needed many people tested to have data for comparing.
From this issue, Sea Hero Quest was created and allowed the acquisition of data from more than 4.5 million people around the world showing great effectiveness and the high potential that video games may have for the investigation field. According to researches, every 2 minutes a player spends playing is the equivalent to 5 hours of lab-research.
In the research, some of the scientist and doctors studied people who carried a gene called APOE4, and in comparison with the rest of the test subjects, they found that the ones who presented such gene were at a higher risk of developing AD because of their lousy performance in spatial navigation ability.
Still, the test has its critics and detractors, some other researchers say that the strength of the project is the vast database that it can get, but the specificity is not the best. Doing good on the test doesn’t mean you’re free from the disease and neither does doing bad means you are condemned to suffer from Alzheimer so nothing is perfect and it has it flaws, but it is fair and right to recognize that it is an amazing project that hopefully will start throwing some great results in a near future that will represent a great advance in the medical and technological field.