One of the most devastating diseases that people can suffer from is Alzheimer’s. The disease affects memory and can make people forget family and friends. A new game that is a partnership between Deutsche Telekom, Alzheimer’s Research UK, University College London, the University of East Anglia and game developers Glitchers aims to help researchers understand dementia by seeing how the brain works in relation to spatial navigation.
The game has players making their way through mazes of islands and icebergs. Each half second of gameplay can be translated into scientific data. So far the game has been downloaded by over 4.3 million people around the world. Data gathered from payers of the game is compared to data from players of the game with a known genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s.
Players who are known to have a genetic predisposition to the disease consisted of a lab group of 31 volunteers where had been genetically tested to carry the APOE4 gene known to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study group also included 29 people who lacked that gene. The researchers matched both lab groups for age, gender, education, and nationality with the benchmark cohort.
Data was studied from 27,108 UK players between 50 and 75 years old, which is the most vulnerable age-group to develop Alzheimer’s in the next decade. What the team found was that those at a higher genetic risk, the players with the APOE4 gene, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks.
In the game, worse spatial navigation meant less efficient routes to checkpoint goals. One researcher, Prof Hornberger, said that the discovery was important because the people showed no memory problems. The result according to Hornberger is that the game can detect people at genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s based on how they play the game.