Smartphones may help identify neurodegenerative conditions earlier than ever before.
Your iPhone may be able to predict signs of dementia, according to a 2019 study by Eli Lilly & Co., Apple, and Evidation Health. Initial results using iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads, as well as Apple’s Beddit sleep monitor, looked at the participants’ device usage and patterns over 12 weeks.
The information included passive sensor data from the Beddit device, questionnaires about mood and energy, and measurements from assessment activities — like motor skill tests reading and typing tests.
Evidation analyzed data from 113 participants age 60 to 75 over 12 weeks. The participants who are thought to be symptomatic typed slower, sent fewer text messages and used “helper” apps like the clock or Siri.
“We know that insights from smart devices and digital applications can lead to improved health outcomes, but we don’t yet know how those resources can be used to identify and accelerate diagnoses,” said first author Nikki Marinsek, a data scientist at Evidation. “The results of the trial set the groundwork for future research that may be able to help identify people with neurodegenerative conditions earlier than ever before.”
Besides monitoring subjects’ performance of everyday tasks on their phones, the study used an assessment app to perform tests like dragging one shape onto another or tapping a circle as fast as possible.
The data was used to help determine cognitive and behavioral differences among the study participants with and without mild cognitive impairment. In the future, researchers hope to identify when users are starting to experience cognitive decline.
“With further study, we may be able to screen people at high risk or detect dementia and Alzheimer’s earlier with the devices we use in our everyday lives,” said Christine Lemke, co-founder and president of Evidation Health. “These early findings suggest the potential of novel digital measures that are based on data generated and controlled by individuals.”