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VR Helping to Track Dementia Issues

by Beth Divine 30 Nov 2018

There are approximately 850 000 people diagnosed with dementia during any year. There are approximately 16 million virtual reality users and this number is on the rise all the time. But what does one group have to do with the other, if anything at all?

Well the connection is best seen through a game. The game Sea Hero Quest has been designed with a view to understanding dementia, specifically the deterioration in cognition and neurological function. The game is free to download and play, taking players on a navigation journey to collect various treasures, get from place to place, and generally work their way through the levels to the end of the game.

The premise of the game is very simple, and it is this very simplicity that will help scientists and doctors to pick up the very earliest signs of degeneration. The main way it will work is easily explained – the more people that play the game, the more data the scientists will have to work with. This wealth of data helps to establish a range of responses that might be construed as ‘normal’, which then leads on to pick up those responses that fall outside this normal range, responses which can often be a very early warning sign of the onset of dementia.

Two minutes of gameplay, says Dr Hugo Spiers of University College London, gives scientists more data than they would get from a two hour long face to face meeting in an attempt to capture the same data. This is because the game is largely intuitive, and is very easy to play, so researchers are spared the time and effort that normally goes into setting up such studies – their subjects tend to prepare themselves and as gameplay is quite prescriptive, they cannot really get it wrong!

 The more people who play, the more data the scientists will have to crunch, enabling them to very precisely target dementia related problems, which may lead to early intervention, and a longer ‘good’ period before the deterioration gets too bad. It may even lead to break-throughs that can push the active onset of dementia back for precious months and even years.