Gaming apps can help identify ongoing problems with navigation — a common long-term symptom of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) — making these issues easier to diagnose and treat, claims a study. The human ability to navigate is controlled by a complex network of mechanisms, involving several different cognitive processes in the brain, which makes it particularly vulnerable to damage.
Yet the process of wayfinding, and the ability to orient back to the direction you have recently come, are rarely tested in TBI patients, despite the significant impact these challenges can have on daily life. To understand, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, UK tested people for navigational abilities using mobile adventure game Sea Hero Quest. They found that patients with TBIs had significant deficits in their navigational abilities, which were not previously revealed through a self-assessment. This opens an avenue for better detection and treatment for people suffering the long-term effects of TBIs.
“The biggest benefit of this work is that it shows that navigation deficits experienced by TBI patients can be detected using a relatively quick, low-cost method that can be tested remotely — our participants can take part in a certified scientific study while sitting on their sofa!” said Dr Rebecca Knight, senior lecturer in psychology at the varsity.
“We hope that by using these apps, we can gather a large amount of data and get greater insights into the mechanisms behind this deficit — as well as creating interventions to better support people as they manage long-term impacts of their injury,” she added.
Sea Hero Quest was originally created by game developers Glitchers, in collaboration with academics and game developers from around the world, to help scientists understand how navigational abilities vary with age and gender.
This study, detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first time this diagnostic tool has been used on subjects with TBIs.
Researchers hope that their findings will open the door to larger-scale studies that will provide more detailed understanding of the mechanisms affected, and potential treatments to improve navigational abilities.