Can Video Games Help with Dementia?

Harry Coulter | 12 Mar 2018

Sea Hero Quest helps Alzheimer’s patientsMore than 747,000 people living in Canada right now are suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease or with another form of dementia. Across the world, this figure is at least 44 million – more than Canada’s total population. At these levels the disease is considered a global health crisis, and it needs to be addressed.

Measures are being taken, but the cruelty with which Alzheimer’s Disease affects not only the person with the condition but also their loved ones and family means that there is always more that can be done. The diagnosis is truly life-changing for the sufferer and everyone around them.

Among the most exciting new developments in Alzheimer’s Disease is an arcade-style video game known as Sea Hero Quest. Most people enjoy the game as much as they enjoy playing at online and mobile casinos, so playing it and contributing to the important work that is being done is not difficult. This is a great predictor of future success for the tool.

How Does Sea Hero Quest Work?

Research with the video game is being conducted in Britain, and those involved hope it will help identify early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and eventually lead to a cure. Sea Hero Quest is designed to reveal the player’s level of spatial awareness.

Currently the Sea Hero Quest team is gathering data from as many people as possible, and all is required is that they play the game. Since getting lost is among the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s, the game was developed to analyse how people develop their navigation skills. If a proper baseline of normal navigation skills, in people who do not have Alzheimer’s and are not at risk of developing it, is created, doctors will be able to use this to identify people who are at risk.

The enjoyable game positions the player in rough waters, through which they must guide a ship. Magical creatures abound, and players can snap photographs as they negotiate a maze of waterways and try to find pieces of a lost journal that belonged to their avatar’s father. Players will be engaged in the action, while studying their behaviour will give scientists a good idea of their level of spatial perception.

Effects of Alzheimers on the brainTapping into the Power of the Internet

So little data currently exists on the early signs of Alzheimer’s, so this research is considered very important in dealing with this devastating worldwide health issue. Spatial perception does decline naturally with age, so researchers knew that they needed a huge sample size to make Sea Hero Quest a useful enterprise. Conducting a large enough study in the past would be almost impossible in the past, but not in today’s Internet age.

Researcher Huge Spiers says that a 2-minute playing session generates as much data as 5 hours in a lab. Researchers collect the performance of everyone who is playing, and use it to compile statistics on the illness. Better and more reliable tests could be developed for diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease, or the early signs of it in youngsters that are not even in their twenties yet.

The game is available for free download, and is not the first app to work with Alzheimer’s Disease or to provide mental exercises to boost brain power. However, Sea Hero Quest does seem to be unique in the design it uses and the fact that it is not funded by pharmaceutical companies or other entities that could profit from what is found.

The empirical findings, which have so far indicated differences in the spatial perception of men and women and a normal linear decline in this ability from 19, should prove very useful. The next step is to gather data from players who already suffer from dementia, and compare the 2 baselines.