JULY 16, 2016 -- BY JIM NEFF







It's not often that you get to be a hero, provide an invaluable service to medical research, help millions of people all over the world, and have loads of fun doing it. For free. Using only your thumbs.


No, I am not talking about playing Pokemon Go. I know this smartphone app has recorded over 15 million downloads on the Apple App Store and Google Play. “According to iOS usage data from Monday, users spent an average of 33 minutes a day playing the game. By comparison, the average iOS user spent 22 minutes on Facebook and 18 minutes on Snapchat.” I get it. The app is a huge hit. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/gaming/2016/07/13/report-pokemon-go-downloads-top-15-million/87022202/)


With all due respect to those playing the game (and at the risk of being an old fogey), when all the hoo-hah has faded, the only ones enriched by the phenomena will be the stockholders of the Nintendo company. For everyone playing the game it will be something like: “I played Pokemon Go for a bazillion hours and I didn't even get a tee shirt.”


So, all that said, I would like to suggest a more productive way to spend your gaming time – Sea Hero Quest. Here's the deal. “Have you ever wanted to take to the seas on a global adventure? A new game available on smartphones worldwide does just that -- and could help dementia patients in the process. The game, called Sea Hero Quest, asks players to set sail in search of precious artifacts -- in the form of memories -- which can be collected at different locations around the world.


As you progress through the game, scientists can use the data you generate to gain insight into your spatial navigation abilities -- one of the first skills lost at the onset of dementia. The aim is to get hundreds of thousands of people playing from around the world, to identify what the normal range of navigation skills are among people in general. Once that is established, neuroscientists could then identify further guidelines to spot dementia early.” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/04/health/dementia-game-sea-hero-quest/)


Alzheimer's Research UK adds: “We still don’t have reliable data on how navigational abilities can change in the healthy brain across life. Playing the game for just a few minutes will provide this completely anonymous data to help improve our understanding of navigational cognition. We’ll create a benchmark to help determine what goes wrong in the brain for people with dementia. “ (http://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/our-research/what-we-do/sea-hero-quest/)


What seems like a simple game actually becomes more challenging as you go, earning it a five star rating in the Apple Store. “The game puts you in the shoes of an unnamed sailor, whose father is slowly losing memories of his life as a seafaring explorer. To try and help him remember his past, your job is to travel around cartoon waterways in search of pieces of his old journal. At the start of a level, you’re given a top-down map of the waterways that shows a number of buoy markers you need to navigate through. Once you’ve memorized it, you simply need to sail your ship around the 3D world and hit each buoy in numerical order. The information about the route you take, and what you do if you get lost, is saved and transmitted for further analysis...The game is meant to be challenging, as we want to see how healthy people navigate and get lost. This will then inform new approaches towards dementia diagnosis and management...The key to this experiment being a success, then, is to get the best possible representation of the population at large. For that, all the research team needs is two minutes of time from as many people as possible. Two minutes. Nothing really, in the grand scheme of things. But in the quest to understand dementia, it could mean a potential lifetime.”



This is a pretty cool game all by itself and is fun for all age groups, not just seniors. You don't have to take my word for it, though. Go to Sea Hero Quest at http://www.seaheroquest.com/en to read more and see the game on a computer. The app is also available in the Apple App Store and Google Play. I've played it on my iPhone and iPad and the graphics are first rate on both.


The apps have already recorded over two million downloads, so that speaks to the quality and fun factors. The real payoff at the end of the day, though, is being able to contribute something of significance to medical science that will benefit people all over the globe. Sea Hero Quest is more than just a game. It could be a game changer.


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.


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Joe Liccar
The Examiner- Gatehouse News …
Jul 12, 2016