The stats are terrifying: an estimated 47 million people with dementia around the world; a new case every 3.2 seconds; 75 million patients by 2030, and a staggering number of people affected overall if we consider all the loved ones suffering along with the patients.
Science has no known cause or cure. But it has a need for more data. And now we can all help simply by having some fun playing a mobile app – two minutes of playtime will generate 5 hours worth of lab research data!
Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most widespread form of dementia (accounts for 60 to 80% of cases) and together with short-term memory, spatial navigation (defined as the cognitive function used to ﬁnd and maintain a route from one place to another) is one of the first abilities to decline.
We use two types of orientation references – egocentric (subject-to-object, locations defined relative to self, e.g. ‘left’ or ‘right’) and allocentric (object-to-object, world-centered spatial representation independent of the individual’s position, e.g. ‘north’ and ‘south’). Both are found to deteriorate already in the early stages of AD. But both are equally found to deteriorate with age.
In the absence of sufficient data on spatial ability in healthy subjects of different age groups, doctors find it hard to detect the onset of dementia and to distinguish between its symptoms and the normal signs of ageing.
This is where Sea Hero Quest comes in. The idea is to collect a massive amount of data about spatial awareness and navigation skills – how we remember locations and how we act when we get lost.
Says Professor Michael Hornberger of UEA (as quoted by The Guardian):
“From the beginning it was clear to us that we didn’t want to create another online cognitive experiment – instead we wanted to have a fun, casual mobile game which would collect valid scientific data. This was also important so that we wouldn’t only get citizen scientists playing the game, but the general public.”
In Sea Hero Quest you are the son of a sea captain who is losing the memories of his voyages and explorations. Your task is to recover the lost pieces of his sea journal. You’ll be given a map showing a number of markers that you need to remember and find one by one. Your position and movements are tracked and generate a global heat map for the researchers. And don’t worry if you get it wrong or lose your way, it will only help identify ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ patterns..
“Scientists love it when you mess up”
Says Hugo Spiers, one of the UCL researchers involved in the project: “Every half-second, the app gathers data about where the player is on the map, sort of like a virtual GPS and calculates how far the player deviates from the fastest possible route to the end goal. Then the app anonymizes the data, stripping it of the player’s name but keeping the player’s age and gender, and uploads it to a massive databank in Germany that the researchers can access.
Based on the kind of data that helps the researchers, users shouldn’t feel bad about doing so terribly at some portions of the game. Scientists love it when you mess up.”(Addictive Cell Phone Game Could Fight Dementia, vocativ.com)
”It’s not just a game,” the description says, “it’s a quest to help scientists fight dementia!”. And, if we may turn this around as appreciative gamifiers, “it’s not just a scientific project, it’s a fun game!”
Sea Hero Quest download links:
Feature image: Source: Alzheimer’s Disease International.
You’re probably already headed for Google Play or the Apple App Store to download the free mobile app Sea Hero Quest created by GLITCHERS, but in case you need some more convincing, take a look at the World Alzheimer Report 2015 on the Alzheimer’s Disease International website.