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Mental health professor helps launch dementia data sourcing app

A professor at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has worked with telecommunication company Deutsche Telekom to launch an innovative new mobile game Sea Hero Quest, which will help in understanding dementia, as well as raising awareness about the condition.

Sea Hero Quest is a multi-platform mobile game specifically designed to help advance understanding of spatial navigation and how the brain works as part of a coordinated effort to manage the growing threat of dementia.

Prof Michael Hornberger, Research Programme Director for Dementia and Complexity in Later Life at NSFT, and a professor of applied dementia research at University of East Anglia (UEA), helped in development of the game.

According to the The Global Impact of Dementia (2013–2050) report, dementia will affect 135 Million people worldwide by 2050. Dementia disrupts the formation of new memories often leaving those affected isolated and disorientated. For many people living with dementia, one of the first effects they experience is a loss of spatial awareness, as they lose the ability to navigate their way through even well-known places and environments.

Creating a global benchmark for how people navigate is widely acknowledged as one of the key steps towards developing new diagnostic tests for the diseases that cause dementia.

Sea Hero Quest was created in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, Alzheimer’s Research, the UEA, University College London (UCL), and game developers Glitchers.

In a process led by Saatchi & Saatchi London, every aspect of Sea Hero Quest is designed by game developers and scientists to provide insights about the way people navigate every day. As players make their way through mazes of islands and icebergs, experts can translate every second of gameplay into scientific data. Every two minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest is equal to five hours of lab-based research. If 100,000 people play Sea Hero Quest for just two minutes, this will equate to 57 years’ worth of lab based research.

Prof Hornberger said: “This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space. This will help shed light on how we use our brain to navigate and aid in future work on diagnostics and drug treatment programmes in dementia research at NSFT,  the UEA and internationally.”

Hans-Christian Schwingen, Deutsche Telekom’s Chief Brand Officer, said: “Deutsche Telekom believes in the power of sharing. We knew that there must be a way of empowering everyone to share their time to help to move us one step closer to a breakthrough in the field of dementia. At the same time, we realised that if we wanted to achieve real scale and truly make a difference, we needed to make it fun for everyone involved. We needed to create something that would get people gaming for good.”

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive at the charity Alzheimer’s Research said: “We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before. The data set that Deutsche Telekom’s Sea Hero Quest generates is truly unprecedented, until now these kind of investigations took years to coordinate and at best gave us a snap shot of how a very small sample of volunteers behaved. The largest spatial navigation study to date comprised less than 600 volunteers. Providing the research community with access to an open source data set of this nature, at this scale, in such a short period of time is exactly the kind of innovation required to unlock the next breakthrough in dementia research”.

All of the gameplay data collected will be anonymised and stored securely within T-Systems data centre in Munich to ensure data integrity and data privacy according to German data security law, one of the strictest in Europe.