In 2016, the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, helped to launch the innovative app game, Sea Hero Quest. 5 years on, its re-launch is aimed at the research community to build on the learnings from the original project.

Research at scale

Outside of Covid-related apps like the UK’s Zoe study, it’s hard to think of many successful large-scale health research apps. We featured the app Sea Hero Quest on our site throughout much of its life, because the partnership between academics, charities and developers seemed to be a key way to uncover real world data on Alzheimer’s Disease. The game was designed to focus on people’s capability in spatial navigation, one of the earliest symptoms spotted in the disease. 

We had no idea how big the app would get. According to the technical partner, Deutsche Telekom, before the app was retired from the app stores:

  • More than 4.3 million people worldwide had used it.
  • They “played for over 117 years, providing scientists with data that would have taken traditional dementia research 176 centuries to collect.”

It’s been described as the largest ever spatial navigation study, and the overall analysis suggests that:

  • Spatial navigation begins to decline from the age of 19 onwards
  • Men and woman use different navigation strategies
  • Although men tended to perform better overall, the gap narrowed in countries with greater gender equality
  • Countries with the highest GDP tended to peform best. 

Commenting on the study, Alzheimer’s Research UK concluded:

“This powerful data set from people of all ages and backgrounds around the world is now being used to help create a global benchmark spatial navigation and improve diagnostic approaches to early disease detection. This dataset will ultimately be available to scientists through an open-source platform.”

Deepening the research

Although the app was withdrawn from the app stores at the end of 2019, the focus now is on engaging the research community. The 2021 version of the app is offered to research teams specialising in cognition and spatial navigation. Once research projects are accepted, each research team will invite specific participants to play the game. 


Read a summary of the app’s achievement at…

Click here

Find out more about how the app is available to researchers at…

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