UCL study to assess link between navigation and AD using virtual reality

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The progressive neurodegenerative condition is the most common form of dementia

Researchers from University College London (UCL) have begun recruiting volunteers to assess the link between navigation and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) using a virtual reality (VR) game.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, participants’ navigation will be assessed using the VR game to try and spot early signs of the neurodegenerative disease.

Affecting more than 944,000 people in the UK, dementia is a neurodegenerative condition that impairs the ability to think or make decisions.

Currently the most common form of dementia, AD progressively deteriorates the memory and thinking skills of the brain.

The Virtual Reality Navigation study is currently recruiting 50 healthy volunteers aged 40 years and over who have no pre-existing cognitive impairments and must not be taking medication for a mental health condition through Join Dementia Research.

All participants will be invited to play a VR game called Cave Crystal Quest for two 90-minute sessions at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

In the first session, participants will wear VR goggles to play the game and must complete several levels before completing a questionnaire about their experiences and how easy they found it to navigate the game.

Participants in the second session will complete written questionnaires about their cognitive abilities, which researchers will compare with the data collected on their ability to navigate in the first session.

The data collected will be used to determine an individual’s ability to navigate in the hope that similar virtual tests could be developed to support clinicians when assessing the early stages of AD by revealing problems with navigation, including troubles following a route or getting lost.

In AD, a common symptom includes feeling lost, particularly for people aged 65 years and over in the early stages of the disease.

“Finding a way to assess these problems at an early stage could help us diagnose and track the progress of the condition in a less invasive way than with current tests,” said Neil Burgess, professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience, UCL.

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