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René Bresgen

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World Alzheimer's Day – playing for the fight against forgetfulness

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Today is World Alzheimer's Day, with a wide range of activities worldwide aimed at raising awareness about dementia and about Alzheimer's, the most common dementia.

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Deutsche Telekom is among the organizations helping to address these diseases, which represent one of the largest health challenges of our time. Dementia researchers urgently require data on spatial orientation by healthy people, and the company has joined with science and research partners, in the framework of the #gameforgood initiative, to address the challenge of collecting such data. This has led to the development of the mobile game "Sea Hero Quest," which is unprecedented in that it enables just about anyone to support dementia research. The data generated by Sea Hero Quest flow into a secure cloud that makes them available to researchers. In addition, "Sea Hero Quest VR," a recently launched virtual-reality version of Sea Hero Quest, will produce complementary, and more precise, game data that will boost the value of the overall database. In addition, the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sport University) is planning to use Sea Hero Quest in the context of an ongoing study of people who show initial signs of dementia.

"To be able to develop diagnostic tests and effective treatments that can slow or even stop dementia-causing diseases, researchers need comparison data on healthy people, so-called "baseline data." Dementia researchers thus depend on support provided by healthy volunteers," explains Prof. Dr. Stephan A. Brandt, Deputy Director of the Department of Neurology at Berlin's Charité hospital.

Dementia is one of the major health challenges of our time. According to the research charity Alzheimer’s Research, some 47 million people worldwide now have Alzheimer's (or a related dementia) – and the number of sufferers is expected to rise to 130 million by 2050. Deutsche Alzheimer Gesellschaft e.V., a German association of groups that assist dementia sufferers and their families, estimates that nearly 1.6 million persons in Germany are now afflicted with dementia, and it expects this number to nearly double by 2050. There is still no cure for Alzheimer's, and efforts to develop therapies that could slow or stop the disease are still being hampered by a lack of urgently required data.

Playing for the fight against forgetfulness - Deutsche Telekom supports dementia research.

Playing for the fight against forgetfulness - Deutsche Telekom supports dementia research.

"To date, over 3 million people worldwide have played Sea Hero Quest, and thereby anonymously provided game data to researchers. The baseline data collected via the game are expected to figure centrally in the development of new procedures for early diagnosis of dementia. Already, game data have been analyzed by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA)," explains Brandt. "Sea Hero Quest represents an innovative approach to applied research. By providing game data on spatial orientation, it is giving us new insights into ageing and dementia," he adds.

All too often, dementia, along with related memory and navigation problems, is still thought of as a problem of the old – and misinterpreted as a natural manifestation of old age. The reduction in spatial orientation abilities is an early symptom among dementia sufferers, one that affects their everyday lives. They lose their ability to navigate even familiar surroundings. Surprisingly few people are aware that the disease, which gradually robs sufferers of more and more cognitive, emotional and social skills, can affect anyone. And even doctors can find it difficult to differentiate between normal and pathological behavior.

The German Sport University of Cologne is planning to use Sea Hero Quest in the context of an ongoing study of people who show initial signs of dementia. This work will look especially at how physical activity can affect spatial orientation skills. Study director Prof. Dr. Dr. Stefan Schneider plans to use the patient version of Sea Hero Quest and then analyze the resulting data via comparison with baseline data from the public version of the mobile game. He expects to generate initial results by spring 2018.

This year, it is easier than ever to support Alzheimer's research – and World Alzheimer's Day. Sea Hero Quest VR, which has been developed for the Samsung Gear VR goggles, is available for download in the Oculus Store. The mobile game Sea Hero Quest, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. Both versions of the game are available free of charge. Hans-Christian Schwingen, Deutsche Telekom's Chief Brand Officer, notes that the initiative is highlighting the opportunities inherent in digitalization: "Innovative technologies can help us solve the pressing challenges of our time. And we want to use such technologies, in cooperation with our partners, to help dementia researchers make significant progress."

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