-- Is fighting Alzheimer's as easy as playing an online game or using a mobile app? Boomers are now seniors and efforts for Alzheimer's prevention, early identification, and treatment now include game-based help, perhaps most notably Lumosity, free online games used by 70 million people worldwide
which promise to help memory, attention, speed of processing, and problem solving.
The scientific community is also playing along, with researchers releasing initial results from the largest Alzheimer's study in history, a study which used a mobile app, Sea Hero Quest.
"It's possible use of the game might actually improve your spatial navigation skills," says Alan Lerner, MD, Director of the Brain Health and Memory Center at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. "We've said it declines throughout life at some rate and we may be able to improve that."
The game Sea Hero Quest involves a sea journey with three sections: navigation, shooting flares to test orientation, and chasing creatures. Dr. Lerner wonders how much playing the game will help improve real-world brain skills.
"How much will this generalize to other cognitive abilities?" asks Dr. Lerner. "For example, people who do crossword puzzles get good at crossword puzzles but it may not help them find their car or remember what they needed to get from the grocery store."
Spatial navigation abilities decrease throughout adult life so research like this is a valuable tool for fighting dementia, especially with a database this large. Sea Hero Quest has been played more than 2.4 million times and has the equivalent of 9400 years of lab-based research.
A study this large has great value, according to Dr. Lerner, since doctors can use diminishing game scores for early intervention in dementia and researchers can measure drug trials by these game scores.
But can playing these games help fight off Alzheimer's and dementia?
"They've never been proven to actually make a difference," says Dr. Lerner. "It might be you have to do it for a very long time so that a week, a month, six months, a year might not even be long enough."