Sea Hero Quest is a video game developed in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom, the game studio Glitchers and several European universities It is designed to identify people who have early and mild symptoms of dementia that medical tests can not detect.
When most people think of Alzheimer's disease, they think of a disease that ruins a person's memory. While memory problems in Alzheimer's disease are very common and serious, these are late-stage symptoms. Researchers and physicians want to detect the disease as early as possible before memory loss occurs to give future treatments the best chance of working.
Sea Hero Quest was built as an identification method for people who may be at risk of Alzheimer's but are not experiencing any major symptoms of the disease. According to a recent study published in the journal PNAS, the game seems to be effective.
In Sea Hero Quest a VR game, players must navigate and control a virtual boat. You get a card and checkpoints, then the card is taken away and players have to navigate to those checkpoints in the game world without the card.
According to the researchers, every two minutes the game has spent five hours of laboratory research. Because Sea Hero Quest has not been available for several years and is downloaded and played by over three million players, they have collected 1,700 years of Alzheimer research data.
Researchers involved in the project studied individuals carrying the APOE4 gene, which is believed to increase the person's risk of dementia while playing the game. They then compared the results of these people with the results of people who played the game who do not have this gene.
"We have found that people with a high genetic risk, the carriers of APOE4, fare worse on spatial navigation tasks. They have taken less efficient routes to checkpoint destinations, "said Professor Michael Hornberger, a member of the team.
Using data collected by thousands of players who downloaded and played Sea Hero Quest researchers were able to create a base to compare their test results. In the future, the team hopes that this data will be available and the game will help to identify people who need to be treated for dementia before they suffer the worst symptoms at a later stage.