VR game to tackle dementia29/08/17Health
Scientists have developed a virtual reality (VR) computer game as part of the world’s largest dementia research experiment.
The game is designed to test one of the first symptoms of dementia, the loss of navigation.
The original smartphone app had three million players, but scientists say the move to virtual reality should allow for more in-depth investigation.
Alzheimer’s Research UK says the goal is to discover a new way of diagnosing the disease.
In the virtual world of Sea Hero Quest VR the player captains a boat.
The challenge is for the player to use their sense of direction to chart a course through complex waterways, desert islands and icy oceans.
While they play, anonymous data will be collected and, later, assessed by neuroscientists.
Max Scott-Slade, from the computer game developers Glitchers, worked with research scientists at University College London, UK, and ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
He said: “It’s interesting to try to make something that’s normally quite a boring subject matter, and lab-based, and bring it to the public and make it as fun as possible.
“The value for us is to create this much richer dataset; we’re capturing 15 times more data from the VR version because we’re separating out where the head looks and where the boat’s moving.”
The findings of the first game showed that someone’s sense of direction declines consistently after their teenage years.
Professor Christophe Hoelscher, chairman of cognitive science at ETH Zurich, said: “No project ever has collected data from three million people of real interactions in this depth.
“That allows us to do a number of analyses that you would never be able to do with classical studies.”
Dr David Reynolds, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “What we really want to be doing is identifying people with dementia ten or 15 years earlier than we do at the moment.
“A game like Sea Hero Quest and understanding how we navigate will help us get to that much earlier diagnosis.”