More than 2.4 million people have downloaded the game “Sea Quest Hero” since May this year, contributing to what is already considered the largest research on dementia ever made. By helping an elderly, former ocean explorer to recover his memories between seas and swamps, players have provided in just 6 months, data that equals to 9400 years of laboratory research. This way, users are contributing to the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
So far it has been realized that spatial orientation capacity begins to be lost after the onset of adulthood, and that men have a slightly better sense of direction than women. It was also noticed that the Nordic countries outnumber all others and it is in the coastal countries that the best navigators are found.
Whoever accesses this application for smartphones, is invited to travel the world, chasing creatures and collecting memories. During the course of the game, the spatial navigation data and sense of orientation of each player are collected completely anonymously and are then combined with those of other players in a data network.
Just six months after it was released, the first results of “Sea Quest Hero” were presented at the 2016 Neuroscience conference in San Diego. According to the BBC, researchers at University College London, who analyzed the data, believe the results may help develop new forms of diagnosis in cases of dementia.
The data already collected allowed the researchers to conclude that spatial navigation capacity begins to decline after adolescence, the beginning of adult life, and it decreases over the years. The research also revealed how the navigation process takes place, and how it varies in the brains of women and men. The same publication reads that males have a slightly better sense of orientation than females and that in this respect the Nordic countries outnumber all others, although there are no concrete explanations for why.
The data show that healthier people, such as those living in the Nordic countries, are able to maintain their navigational capabilities longer and coastal nations are those with the best browsers.
The difference between men and women is not new. “And it refers to the majority of men and most women,” said neurologist Lopes Lima, noting that there are also exceptions. “Men are generally better able to read maps and orient themselves, while the ladies are more apt to do detailed things, to be more rigorous,” he explained.
While the left hemisphere of the brain “has more to do with language,” law is “more important for spatial orientation,” and these are organized differently between men and women, which explains the differences observed in this study.
Regarding the abilities of the Norse, Lopes Lima believes that they may be related “to Viking culture, which is a culture of great navigation and that of course passed from parents to children”, but this has no scientific basis.
According to neuroscientist Hugo Spiers of University College London, this game may help develop an early diagnosis of dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease – which affects memory and spatial orientation – and may be useful in clinical trials of medications related to dementia.
There is still no effective way to diagnose this disease early, but Lopes Lima warns that although “in the future it may prove useful, at this point it is not”. This is because, he explains, “there is no treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s disease from appearing.” That would only make life worse for those who had a positive diagnosis. “When there is treatment, it will be important to have tests to detect the disease as early as possible”.
This game was developed by Deutsche Telekom and Alzheimer’s Research UK, a non-profit association that supports research in this area and which researchers are grateful for, thanks to the help they have given to understanding these problems, as well as the speed at which they have enabled them to be collected.