Smartphone app could improve dementia diagnosis

Kevin Whately
Kevin Whately

Alzheimer’s Society is urging people in West Sussex to play a smartphone game every day to improve the speed and accuracy of dementia diagnosis.

Brain game app GameChanger is being launched today and sees leading UK dementia charity Alzheimer’s Society working with scientists at the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute.

The app, which should be played for just five minutes a day for a month, features a series of games designed to test specific aspects of memory and thinking that are affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is hoped the game will lead to a better understanding of the condition and will result in improved diagnosis rates.

Researchers say data recorded on the app will enable them to understand more about how people usually perform – which will later help them to identify the warning signs of Alzheimer’s.

Kevin Whately, famous for starring in Inspector Morse and Lewis, became an Alzheimer’s Society ambassador after his mum was diagnosed with dementia and has been playing the games ahead of the app’s launch today.

He said: “GameChanger is going to be a very important innovation because the more people play, the quicker we can detect what causes this awful disease. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it will really drive forward dementia research.”

There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, 14,148 of them in West Sussex. And the national figure is set to exceed one million by 2021.

Someone in the UK develops dementia every three minutes, but a third of cases are undiagnosed.

It is hoped the app can eventually be used to find people in the very early stages of the disease and develop new treatments to stop it in its tracks.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We’ve worked hard with the Government and the NHS to increase dementia diagnosis rates but there is far more to be done.

A third of people with dementia still don’t get a diagnosis, and those who do often tell us it was a painfully slow process. A million people in the UK will have dementia by 2021, and if they can get a diagnosis quickly and accurately that will help them to live well with the disease.

“Dementia is the only one of the top ten killers that we can’t cure, prevent or even slow down, so we urgently need to better understand this devastating disease. Alzheimer’s Society is investing in research because it will beat dementia – but for research to progress, more people need to take part, and GameChanger is a great opportunity for everyone to do that.”

Dr Chris Hinds from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute, commented: “People using the app are just playing games but their phones are doing much more – collecting data that we can use to learn about the brain, to help us understand what is a natural part of ageing and what’s a warning sign.

“Technology can open up these hugely exciting areas of dementia research, but we need people to get involved and help drive the GameChanger project forward. Hopefully with enough support one day we will be able to spot those very early changes in the brain and stop the disease from developing.”

Beyond GameChanger, Alzheimer’s Society has a research portfolio of 182 active projects worth over £35 million this year alone, and as a founding funder of the UK Dementia Research Institute it is committed to spending at least £150m in the next decade.

To join Alzheimer’s Society in the ground-breaking research and unite against dementia, go to alzheimers.org.uk/gamechanger

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