How video games could help fight dementia in dogs

The dog must use its nose to perform different challenges. — AFP Relaxnews

Worldwide, some 50 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease today. But they aren’t the only ones, since dogs can also be affected by dementia. Now, a startup is working hard to combat this through video games.

For many pet owners, nothing is too good – or too expensive – when it comes to taking care of their four-legged friend. Dersim Avdar is one of those people. He is the co-founder of Joipaw, a British startup that is developing video games for dogs.

The prototype it has developed takes the form of a saliva-resistant touchscreen mounted on a treat dispenser. The dog must then use their nose to perform different challenges. One of them is inspired by the whack-a-mole game, and involves following, on the screen, the comings and goings of this mammal that gardeners hate. If the pet manages to complete the challenges, then they’re rewarded with a treat.

This video game console was originally designed so that Dersim Avdar could keep his dog, Kawet, occupied while he was out. Most owners turn on the television or leave toys out for their furry friend to play with when they go to work or out shopping. But for Dersim Avdar, these activities do not stimulate the animal enough from an intellectual point of view.

“What we do today is turn on the TV, give them stuffed toys filled with treats or buy dog puzzles. None of these are healthy long-term solutions, and once that novelty wears off, separation anxiety kicks in again,” he explains in a blog post on the Joipaw website.

But that’s not the only advantage of the games console the entrepreneur is developing. It could also help fight senile dementia in older dogs. Indeed, aging leads to progressive and irreversible changes in dogs’ bodily organs, including the brain.

The animal may then face problems relating to memory, learning processes, and alertness and response to stimuli. More than a third of dogs over the age of eight suffer from this condition, according to a Cornell University study.

Avenues of exploration for Alzheimer’s research

As with humans, it is crucial to diagnose senile dementia in dogs as early as possible to slow the irreversible deterioration of the brain. “As with humans who get Alzheimer’s disease, studies indicate that the best thing to do for your dog is provide a healthy lifestyle: good food, regular exercise and mental stimulation. And to quit alcohol and smoking, but that’s less of an issue for dogs,” explains Avdar.

That’s where Joipaw’s console comes in. Although still in the development phase, it looks “very promising”, as Clara Mancini, a professor specialising in animal-computer interaction at the Open University (UK) and scientific advisor to Joipaw, explained to Axios.

The problem for the researchers, however, is that it is difficult to get dogs to pay attention to the screen, since they don’t do this as naturally as their human counterparts. Nevertheless, Avdar is confident that his games console will be on the market in the next few years, although he and his teams are working on a subscription-based model.

The prospect of preventing senile dementia in dogs could considerably improve the quality of life of those most affected, as well as their owners. Indeed, this pathology shares many similarities with Alzheimer’s disease in humans, which could provide researchers with avenues of study in preventing or delaying the onset of this neurodegenerative disease.

“The idea is to try and develop technology that starts to reduce the gap between humans and animals rather than increase it,” Mancini told Axios. – AFP Relaxnews

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