Saturday, November 19, 2016
Free mobile game that tests someone's ability to navigate could help doctors detect Alzheimer's in minutes: VIDEO
British scientists have developed a mobile game which could help doctors detect Alzheimer's in minutes, years before serious symptoms arise.
The project - the result of the biggest dementia study in the history of medical research - gives neuroscientists the greatest knowledge to date as to how the human brain navigates around the world.
More than 2.4million people around the world have downloaded a free smartphone game which tests their ability to navigate.
And it has already thrown up dramatic new findings about how the human brain ages.
The Sea Hero Quest game, which involves sailing a boat around mazes and misty seas in a fictional world, sets the first accurate benchmark for spatial navigation.
The research team, led by University College London, can now see for the first time how the healthy human brain makes decisions about navigation at every turn.
And they found that even among healthy people, the ability to navigate starts to diminish from the age of 19.
Using the data gathered from the healthy volunteers, they aim to use the game to test the navigation skills of people feared to have dementia - giving them an instant diagnosis tool.
When people develop dementia - particularly the Alzheimer's form of the disease - navigation and spatial awareness are among the first abilities to go.
Neuroscientist Dr Hugo Spiers, presenting his data at the Neuroscience 2016 conference in San Diego yesterday, said: 'This is the only study of its kind, on this scale, to date. Its accuracy greatly exceeds that of all previous research in this area.'
The biggest trial before this examining similar data, had involved only 599 people, he said.
The findings showed the ability of healthy humans to navigate starts to decline at the age of 19 and diminishes steadily until their 70s.
Until now, doctors assumed the ability to navigate would not start to deteriorate until middle age.
On one of the levels of the game, in which the player is sent around a twisting maze before firing a flare back to where they think they started, 19-year-olds were 74 per cent likely to have an accurate hit, diminishing to 71 per cent at age 30, 66 per cent at age 40, and 46 per cent at age 75.
If someone with Alzheimer's played the game, they would be expected to perform substantially worse than others at their benchmark - giving doctors an immediate red flag.
Researcher Dr Michael Hornberger, of the University of East Anglia, said: 'One of the first effects of dementia is a loss of spatial navigation and that's why it's of paramount importance we find out more about how the brain's spatial navigation abilities, in order to identify what goes wrong during the onset of dementia.
'The amount of data that has already been generated by people playing Sea Hero Quest all around the world is phenomenal and is enabling us to reveal a vital global benchmark of how people, of all ages and from all over the use spatial navigation.'
Dr Spiers said: 'The findings the game is yielding have enormous potential to support vital developments in dementia research.
'The ability to diagnose dementia at early stages, well before patients exhibit any signs of general memory loss, would be a milestone.
'This study is thus now giving us the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people living with dementia and those at risk of developing the disease in the future.'
The team, which also involves scientists at University of East Anglia, is now planning a trial of 100 Alzheimer's patients, to start next year, to confirm that the game can be used as a diagnostic tool.
Dr Spiers said developing a professional, fun game that people would download in their millions had been crucial to the success.
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by DAILYMAIL
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