Virtual reality game takes on dementia

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Deutsche Telekom

Scientists have developed a virtual reality computer game as part of the world’s biggest dementia research experiment.

It is designed to test one of the first things to go with dementia – the ability to navigate.

The original smartphone app had 3 million players, but the move to virtual reality should allow scientists to investigate in greater detail.

Alzheimer’s Research UK says the goal is a new way of diagnosing the disease.

In the virtual world of Sea Hero Quest VR you captain a boat.

The challenge is to use your sense of direction to chart a course through complex waterways, desert islands and icy oceans.

And even feed hotdog-loving sea monsters.

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Deutsche Telekom

But it is not only a game. While you play, anonymous data will be collected and, later, assessed by neuroscientists.

Max Scott-Slade, from the computer game developers Glitchers, worked with research scientists at University College London and ETH Zurich.

He told the BBC: “It’s interesting to try to make something that’s normally quite a boring subject matter, and lab-based, and bring it to the public and make it as fun as possible.

“The value for us is to create this much richer dataset, we’re capturing 15 times more data from the VR version because we’re separating out where the head looks and where the boat’s moving.”

The findings of the first game were presented at an international meeting of neuroscientists in 2016.

It showed someone’s sense of direction declines consistently after their teenage years.

The data also suggested men have a slightly better sense of direction than women and that the Nordic nations outperform the rest of the world, although it is not yet clear why.

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UCL

Image caption

The deeper the colour, the stronger the country’s navigational ability

Prof Christophe Hoelscher, chairman of cognitive science at ETH Zurich, said: “No project ever has collected data from 3 million people of real…

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