Apple Launches Study To Detect Depression, Cognitive Decline Using Apple Watch and iPhone

Apple study detect depression dementia Apple Watch
Image: Shiwa ID, Unsplash

Apple is working on a technology to help detect depression and early-stage cognitive decline, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The efforts spring from research partnerships last year, when Apple partnered with the University of California at Los Angeles to launch the three-year program through UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge. The goal was to allow researchers to monitor participants for signs of stress, anxiety and depression through the Apple Watch and a wearable sleep monitoring device developed by Beddit, with data gathered by an app on the user’s iPhone.

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Now, Biogen is joining the project. The pharmaceutical company received approval this summer from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a new drug to treat mild cognitive impairment.

The code name for the UCLA project is “Seabreeze” while “Pi” is the code name for the Biogen project.

The UCLA researchers will use the iPhone’s video camera, keyboard, and audio sensors, as well as the Apple Watch, to collect data, according to The Wall Street Journal. This could include how users speak, how often and how fast they walk, their heart and breathing rates, their sleep patterns, and more. Researchers may also measure typing speed and the frequency of typos.

The back side of a smartphone
Image: blocks, Unsplash

“The analyses made possible by the scale, length and design of this study will provide the most extensive evidence available to date regarding the possible uses of digital tools for assessing and tracking behavioral health,” Nelson Freimer, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the study’s principal investigator, said at the time. “We envision a future in which these tools will become indispensable for depression sufferers and those providing them care.”

Apple, along with Biogen, will also detect cognitive impairment in patients. The cognitive impairment can develop into Alzheimer’s in a later stage. Early detection could help the users from contracting serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s. The tech giant along with Biogen plans to track almost 20,000 people who have signed up for the project.

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Apple hopes that if the data gathered from Apple devices correlates with a health condition, Apple could develop an app or feature that could warn people that they are at risk so they can seek care.

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Sam Draper () is Online Editor at WT | Wearable Technologies specialized in the field of sports and fitness but also passionated about any new lifestyle gadget on the market. Sam can be contacted at press(at)wearable-technologies.com.