Can You Contribute to Alzheimer’s Research By Playing a Computer Game?

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Alzheimer’s is often called “the long goodbye,” and if someone you love has the disease, you may feel like you are watching them fade away right before your eyes, while you can do nothing to bring them back. This sense of helplessness in the face of a disease with no known cure can be one of the hardest challenges you have to confront as a family member or caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s. Now, an inventive new game allows you to directly contribute to Alzheimer’s research. There’s no excuse to sit on the sidelines any longer.

Slow Going Research

At the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, two researchers studying Alzheimer’s disease faced a difficult and very time-consuming problem. Chris Schaffer and Nozomi Nishimura were aware that the brains of Alzheimer’s patients often showed reduced blood flow.  When they gave patients drugs to improve blood flow, they found that some of the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s were reversed. The two researchers then focused on studying exactly how reduced blood flow in the brain contributed to Alzheimer’s.

The researchers wanted to test out a variety of new ideas and possible therapies on rats, but this is when they ran into their big problem. Nishimura explained the issue in an article on Futurity.org, “While we can acquire enough data to test a new idea about this process or test a potential therapeutic to treat the blood flow reduction in about a week, it takes us a full year to analyze that data.”

This is because they need to scroll through highly detailed videos of the brain to search for clogged blood vessels. Despite all their attempts, the team has not been able to create a computer program that can easily distinguish the blocked vessels. The best equipment seems to be keen, human eyes. With limited people at their disposal, Schaffer and Nozomi’s research was moving forward at a crawl.

Introducing Stall Catchers

Schaffer and Nozomi knew that the world was full of people who would be more than willing to volunteer their time to contribute to Alzheimer’s research, but how to connect with them and create a platform that would allow them to help?

This is when a citizen science project, called EyesOnALZ from the Human Computation Institute stepped in. EyesOnALZ was created to? harness the power of the public to advance Alzheimer’s research. The organization readily took on Schaffer and Nozomi’s problem and designed a game called “Stall Catchers.”

The premise of the game is simple, yet powerful. Players simply look through videos and search for clogged blood vessels. It’s like Where’s Waldo, for Alzheimer’s research. Participants get points for correctly identifying clogs. You don’t need any advanced degrees or medical knowledge to play, just patience, focus, and a good set of eyes.

In fact, you can play Stall Catchers right now! The game may seem a little simple, but the implications could be life-changing. The more people who participate, the quicker researchers, like Schaffer and Nozomi, can tabulate their results and continue testing new ideas and theories.

If you’ve ever felt helpless in the face of your loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you don’t have to feel that way anymore. Now you can actively participate in ground-breaking research. Even just spending an hour a week on Stall Catchers can make a difference.

Also, you are NOT alone! If you are struggling emotionally with caring for your loved one or simply handling the reality of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, we invite you to visit our free monthly support group in Poway, California for caregivers and families affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia.


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2 replies

  1. Awesome idea, thanks for posting!

  2. Fantastic Idea thank you I had to share.

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