Can playing this game help fight dementia?
Technology has been advancing quickly, and with it, new apps that benefit medical knowledge.
One such app is a mobile game, “Sea Hero Quest,” in which players have to navigate themselves through an imaginary world in search of precious artifacts. During the game, data is collected on the player’s navigational abilities, one skillset that can become impaired early on for some patients with dementia.
Dr. Hugo Spiers, a neuroscientist at University College London, collaborated with Alzheimer’s Research UK and gaming experts Glitchers, to create the game in order to study how people navigate space. More than 2.5 million have played, making it the largest dementia study in history.
The goal was to identify the baseline of navigation skills among humans in general and to use this information to develop a test or chart to profile people and spot dementia early through any deviance from the norm.
“The findings the game is yielding have enormous potential to support vital developments in dementia research,” Spiers said in a statement.
“There are multiple types of dementia – a general term used to describe any disease causing progressive decline in memory and/or other cognitive abilities,” says Danielle Dodson, a clinical social worker and program coordinator at the Advocate Memory Center in Park Ridge, Ill. “Symptoms can vary based upon the type of dementia and the area of the brain impacted.”
Although memory loss is frequently seen early in dementia, some patients first develop changes in language, visual-spatial perception, and/or executive functions like problem-solving, sequencing, and planning abilities, according to Dr. Darren Gitelman, senior medical director of the Advocate Memory Center.
Many people experience changes in memory functions with aging, but it does not necessarily mean that one has dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “at least two of the following core mental functions must be significantly impaired” in order to diagnose dementia: memory, communication and language, ability to focus and pay attention, reasoning and judgment and visual perception.
“Age is the greatest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia – with risk increasing greatly for those over 65,” says Dodson. “However, some forms of dementia – such as Frontotemporal Dementia – are more likely to occur in younger individuals, and four percent of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed before age 65.”
Unfortunately, there is no one test to determine if someone has dementia, and risk factors like age and genetics cannot be changed, but there are some lifestyle changes that may help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
“One of the main things you can do is stay active,” says Kristen Remmers, an Advocate nurse who cares for dementia patients at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.
Mental activity – personalized to an individual’s level of cognitive abilities so that it is neither too challenging nor too simple – appears to be an important factor in maintaining brain health, says Dodson, as is socialization, physical activity and good nutrition.
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