A game that helps scientists understand dementia

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My iPhone alerted me—I had to update some of my apps. When I opened the App Store, a headline jumped out at me: “This Game Helps Scientists Fight Dementia.”

Sea Hero Quest” is a really interesting way for scientists at Deutsche Telekom to “crowdsource” information about things like reaction time and spatial awareness. 

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“Playing the game will help our scientists understand in detail how our brains navigate space, and help to build the largest crowd-sourced database on human spatial navigation,” the site reads.

What do YOU do in the game? You navigate a boat and collect points. It’s simple, clever, and fairly easy to get points. Each time to reach another point in the game (which is often) you are asked a few questions like, “How old are you?” Questions like these help the researchers put your otherwise-anonymous data into a pool that helps them identify how quickly different the brains of people with dementia are from the rest of the population. 

“Playing the game for just a few minutes will provide this completely anonymous data to help improve our understanding of navigational cognition. We’ll create a benchmark to help determine what goes wrong in the brain for people with dementia,” the site says.

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I learn by doing, so downloading the app was really the only way for me to understand what it was about. It’s a pretty cool app, and it’s a fun little game to play. 

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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