Scientists at the University of Essex have joined forces with a leading gaming designer to create a game app based on research into combating Alzheimer’s disease.With the number of dementia sufferers set to double every 25 years, the youngsters of today will be the carers of tomorrow.
The team behind this latest collaboration are hoping the game will help get the message across to a younger audience about the future impact of Alzheimer’s, but in a subtle way.
Dr Jody Mason, co-director of the Essex Research into Ageing Unit (ERA) at the University of Essex, said: “The interactive nature of the game will make learning enjoyable without the player feeling lectured. We want the game to be entertaining, but which just also happens to inform the player about Alzheimer’s – not the other way round.”
Dr Mason is collaborating with digital artist and games developer Gareth Bushell, director of independent game company Fayju.com and the man behind internationally-successful games Dune Rider, A monster ate my homework and Fayju Ball. The game is hoped to target a mass audience of casual gamers. The project is being funded by a Wellcome Trust People Award.
Alzheimer’s is an age-related disease that by 2050 will affect one in three people in the UK as a sufferer, carer, or a relative. About 65 per cent of the 820,000 people in the UK with dementia have Alzheimer’s, costing the economy about £23 billion per year − more than the cost of heart disease and cancer combined.
As Dr Mason explained, the aim of the game is to encourage empathy, engagement and understanding, while highlighting the desperate need for a cure for Alzheimer’s. “But we need to get the balance of the game right by getting the educational side across with a light touch so it does not put people off playing the game,” he stressed.
“Since Alzheimer’s Disease is an age-related disease, and life expectancy is increasing, it is imperative that we educate the general public, particularly the young. We believe that casual gaming for mobile platforms is a widely accessible and excellent way of engaging millions of people in understanding the severity of this disease and its implications.”
Gareth Bushell, whose AppStore games have been downloaded more than eight million times, added: “The game will sensitively and tastefully deal with the pathology of Alzheimer’s at the molecular level and will feature absorbing and competitive game play designed to attract users, while highlighting therapeutic intervention approaches being taken.”
The game will follow a casual real-time-strategy format, where users will use a variety of approaches to stop a sticky protein from congregating in the brain.
The team will initially launch the game via Apple’s AppStore, with Android and other platforms planned at a later date.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Jody Mason