Can a video game help in early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease? A spatial navigation-based game called ‘Sea Hero Quest’ which can be played on cell phones, tablets and virtual reality applications has shown that evidence of poor spatial orientation as an indicator can help in early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease—even before any symptoms can be visible.
Sea Hero Quest (illustrative image) After memorizing the map, players must navigate as quickly as possible towards the buoys (points 1 to 3). © Diana Quach
In a study published in PLOS ONE, researchers confirm their theory on virtual navigation performance is strongly related to that of the real world. The researchers asked a series of questions: How do we find our way around? Why do I always get lost while my friend never does? Why does people's sense of direction vary so widely in general? Is it linked to inherent, genetic characteristics or determined by cultural factors?
Walkthrough video of the Sea Hero Quest VR game:
Specifically, in the real and virtual world, researchers compared navigational performance on male and female volunteers of variable ages. After assessment of navigational abilities, results of individuals who played Sea Hero Quest were compared with those who are more prone to developing Alzheimer disease. The findings concluded for the first time how large date from cognitive testing could lead to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and assist in personalized testing processes to diagnose Alzheimer’s in other patients who show no clinical signs.