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Researchers Focus on New Way to Make Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Sooner

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Researchers from the UK are using modern technology (and a little bit of fun) to study Alzheimer’s disease and in order to make the diagnosis of this debilitating disease easier. Indeed, it’s the hope of these computer coders and cognitive experts that by using VR technology and a gaming platform that they can accumulate thousands of hours of real medical research in order to help compile a new method (or improve existing methods) doctors use to make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

VR Video Game Designed to Collect Alzheimer’s Data

Sea Hero Quest is a mobile app and VR game created by Glitchers—a UK video game development studio—in partnership with Deutsche Telekom and researchers at the University College London, the University of East Anglia, and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The game was built to collect and collate data that cognitive experts can then use to potentially spot individuals who exhibit very early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. While the end goal of the game isn’t to create a new way to make an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in itself, researchers hope that by collecting large amounts of user data, they can change a long-standing paradigm that often leads to diagnoses only after a person is suffering from noticeable memory or cognitive difficulties.

To date, the mobile app and it’s virtual reality counterpart have collected over 1,700 years’ worth of data in just two years.

How is an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis Reached?

Typically, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis would involve the use of several distinct tests that assess memory impairment, critical thinking skills, and functional abilities in comparison with behavioral changes. The process can be lengthy. It can also be faulty, leaving people undiagnosed until symptoms become marked more noticeable.

But this computer game doesn’t focus on memory and recall issues—the symptom most commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, it focuses on spatial navigation tasks. Why? Because potential patients who are otherwise healthy—with no memory issues at all—display marked deterioration of these critical cognitive skills months or years prior to showcasing “traditional” Alzheimer’s symptoms.

According to Prof. Hornberger, one of the lead researchers, “. . . people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals. This is really important because these are people with no memory problems.” This difference can even be spotted in the way an individual crosses a room.

This is so important because while Alzheimer’s disease cannot yet be cured, catching the disease in its earliest stages can help doctors create a treatment plan that may slow the progression of symptoms.

What Does This Mean for You?

If you’re a family caregiver of a loved one who has not yet been given an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it may be worth your while to watch these individuals a little more closely to see if they do exhibit similar spatial navigation challenges. This could be your first opportunity to catch an early symptom and bring it to the attention of your family medical care provider.

If your loved one has already been given an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, contact Second Family Home Care to learn how our friendly caregivers can help you care for your aging loved one living at home and help ease the stress and anxiety of balancing work and family life for you. Call (972) 347-0700 to schedule your no obligation in-home consultation today.

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