Alzheimer’s Disease Early Detection: Smartphone Game Spots Condition Using Spatial Navigation

Developers created a smartphone game that offers early detection of Alzheimer’s disease using spatial navigation. The breakthrough program altered the statistics that the disease may only be detected after a few years and only during the advanced stage.

The University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University College London in the UK collaborated with Deutsche Telekom in creating the “Sea Hero Quest” mobile game, which assesses players’ ability to find their way around mazes. As per a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 27,000 UK players were assessed including 60 more who were recruited for genetic testing.

The results showed that 31 of the participants had the APOE4 gene. Those who have it are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and the symptoms were found to appear at a younger age.

The combination of lab and benchmark data showed that those with the gene were less inefficient in finding routes to the checkpoint goals. Professor Michael Hornberger also noted that they performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. According to the researchers, people who chose to play the game helped study since merely two minutes of activity was equivalent to five hours of lab-based study.

Prof. Hornberger added that people with the disease take longer to show symptoms such as memory loss. The program allowed them to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s even when the participants did not show memory problems yet. The detection helps create more effective diagnosis methods that may also assist in future treatments of the condition, as per Medical News Daily.

Gillian Coughlan from the UEA said that further research is still needed to capitalize on the data collected.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, one person develops Alzheimer’s disease every three seconds. The common symptom of the disease is dementia, which affects around 50 million people worldwide. Experts said that by 2050, the number of people with the disease would be tripled.

“Research shows us that the brain changes associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s begin decades before symptoms like memory loss start,” chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research United Kingdom Hilary Evans said. 

Thus, early detection, such as the one offered by the mobile game, would be helpful in detecting Alzheimer’s disease in advance. Doctors would then be able to come up with a better approach in helping patients prevent the onset of the advanced stage of the condition.