Video games aren’t just for fun anymore. In fact, they can be deadly serious.
A new video game was designed to detect Alzheimer’s disease, and it actually seems to work.
Alzheimer’s disease is well-known for causing severe memory issues, but those symptoms don’t show up until the later stages of the disease. At the moment, medical tests are unable to detect early symptoms of the disease, but if they were, doctors could potentially work to prevent memory loss from occurring.
Thus, Sea Hero Quest, the video game that’s designed to do just that. The game is the result of a collaborative effort between several European universities, Deutsche Telekom, and game studio Glitchers. It tests players’ navigational skills — one of the first skills to weaken during the onset of dementia.
Players have to control a virtual boat and navigate to certain checkpoints in the game. At first, they have a map that shows various checkpoints, but then they have to navigate to the checkpoints without the map.
Over three million people have played the game so far. Researchers say that every two minutes spent playing the game is equivalent to five hours of lab-based research, so they’ve gathered about 1700 research-years of data on Alzheimer’s from Sea Hero Quest so far.
They hope this data will help identify people who need treatment for dementia before the disease progresses, and they’re well on their way.
“We report that assessment of navigational behavior using the Sea Hero Quest app provides a means of discriminating healthy aging from genetically at-risk individuals of Alzheimer’s disease,” study researchers said. In other words, the game works.
The game is also a free mobile app, so you can download it and do your part to aid Alzheimer’s research. (And don’t worry if you’re not great at the game — that doesn’t mean you’re in the early stages of dementia.)