What smartphone game that's actually a dementia study revealed about Nordic people

More than two million people have played Sea Hero Quest, a computer game that is actually a front for university research into the onset of dementia.
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More than two million people have played Sea Hero Quest, a computer game that is actually a front for university research into the onset of dementia.

Dubbed by the BBC as "the world's largest dementia research experiment," the smartphone game to save an old sailor's lost memories anonymously tracks players' sense of direction and navigational skills.

That data has been analyzed by University College London (UCL), which has released its first batch of results this week that reveals an intriguing insight into people of Nordic descent.

One of the challenges set in the game, releasing a flare in the direction of "home," has been analyzed to create a map of which parts of the world show the better navigational skills.

It found that countries with a Nordic influence, such as Scandinavia, northern Europe and North America, show better navigational skills than those in the rest of the world.

 Credit: UCL

Credit: UCL

There's no confirmed theory on why this could be the case, but the BBC reports several possible answers have been suggested, including the better health enjoyed by those in Nordic countries that helps them retain their navigational abilities longer.

It's also suggested that coastal nations have better navigators, and another possibility – one pertinent for Minnesotans – that genetic "Viking blood" boosts navigational skills.

Problems with spatial navigation is one of the symptoms of dementia and it's hoped the results from the computer game will feed into a way of diagnosing dementia at the earliest possible opportunity, something not yet possible.

One of the results found so far is that sense of direction declines consistently after the teenage years, with 74 percent of 19-year-olds accurate at firing the "flare" back home in the game, but the percentage fell each year till it reached 46 percent at age 75.

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