• Smartphone game used to fight dementia

Researchers have used a mobile phone app to gather data about dementia, Dr Hugo Spiers of University College London has revealed.

The game, called ‘Sea Hero Quest’, has been downloaded 2.4 million times, making this study the biggest ever investigation into dementia. It is hoped that the game could eventually form part of how early-stage dementia is detected and diagnosed. Dr Spiers explained: “It is really hard to build that sort of test. It has to involve virtual reality and clinicians don’t get involved in that sort of thing.”

The game involves players completing a variety of fun tasks which test their spatial memory, such as shooting flares back in the direction you came from on a uniform landscape or navigating various mazes. Players can also choose to volunteer demographic information such as sex, age, and country of residence.

Presenting at the Neuroscience conference in San Diego, the team revealed that the data has already yielded some surprising results. Researchers have found that spatial ability begins to decline much earlier than previously thought. The process begins in the early 20s and continues at a steady rate into old age.

Although this method of gathering data using a smartphone is new, Dr Spiers said that this model of research could be used to improve other areas of healthcare.