A memory problem is one of the most notable symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, but it may not be evident in the earliest stages of the disease.
17,600 Years Worth Of Alzheimer's Research
Researchers have developed a game that can help detect Alzheimer's earlier. More than 4.3 million people have so far downloaded the game app called Sea Hero Quest.
Data generated from two minutes of gameplay is equivalent to five hours worth of data collected in a lab setting. Because of its popularity, Sea Hero Quest has been played equivalent to more than 117 years in total hours, which provides 17,600 years worth of Alzheimer's research.
The goal of the players is to find the quickest route to a series of checkpoint buoys. As they navigate their way through mazes and icebergs, they provide researchers with scientific data that could be used to study the difference on how people genetically predisposed to Alzheimer's and those who are not playing the game.
How People At Risk Of Alzheimer's Play 'Sea Hero Quest'
In the study published in the journal PNAS, researchers reported that people who are genetically at risk of developing the neurological disease can be identified from those who are not on specific levels of the game.
The findings are important since standard memory and thinking tests could not distinguish between the two groups.
Study researcher Michael Hornberger, from the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said that carriers of the APOE4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer's disease, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They also tend to take the less efficient routes to checkpoint goals.
"This is really important because these are people with no memory problems," Hornberger said in a statement.
"Those without the APOE4 gene travelled roughly the same distance as the 27,000 people forming the baseline score. This difference in performance was particularly pronounced where the space to navigate was large and open."
Using 'Sea Hero Quest' To Detect People With Genetic Risk Of Alzheimer's
Hornberger said this means it is possible to detect people with genetic risk of Alzheimer's disease based on how they play the game. The game also provides researchers a whopping amount of data that can shed more light on Alzheimer's disease.
"In the future, SHQ normative benchmark data can be used to more accurately classify spatial impairments in at-high-risk of AD healthy participants at a more individual level, therefore providing the steppingstone for individualized diagnostics and outcome measures of cognitive symptoms in preclinical AD," the researchers wrote in their study.