A new, free game in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store is now helping researchers better understand dementia. Sea Hero Quest was developed by experts from the University College London, University of East Anglia, Alzheimer's Research UK and Glitchers. Gamers who play for just two minutes will be able to provide the equivalent of five hours of lab-based research data, according to its creators.
Since its official launch party on May 3, it has been downloaded more than 7,000 times in the Google Play Store. Sea Hero Quest tracks navigational data anonymously and pools together the information from users around the world. In turn, researchers are able to create benchmarks for spatial navigation.
The game includes basic tasks such as maze navigation. Users are asked to steer a boat through an arctic or tropical scenery on their display. Then, they're challenged to shoot flares and capture images of creatures they spot along the way, all in the name of tracking skills such as orientation.
"Every element of the game was carefully crafted to be as fun and exciting as it is scientifically valid," its creators write on the Sea Hero Quest website.
UCL Neuroscientist Hugo Spiers says that his research team is hoping to learn how well people do across different ages and demographics. He also calls it "citizen science," and claims it was developed after researchers began wondering how they could harness data through the power of mobile devices.
Although there is no cure for dementia, Spiers and the other developers hope that they will collect the data they need to better understand the condition.
Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms, such as a decline in memory skills. It can also include a loss of attentiveness, visual perception and reasoning and judgment.
The app developers claim that the collected data could "eventually lead to the development of new diagnosis tools and treatments for dementia." Loss of navigational skills is one of the first symptoms of dementia. Sea Hero Quest specifically hones in on navigation in its gameplay.
The app developers claim that all information gathered through Sea Hero Quest will be stored securely.