Apple works on detecting depression, cognitive decline via iPhone data

Apple is reportedly in the early stages of developing technology to detect depression and cognitive decline.

Apple is reportedly in the early stages of developing technology to detect depression and cognitive decline. Photo: Getty

Apple’s iPhone could soon help diagnose depression, anxiety and cognitive decline in users by using digital clues to identify mental health conditions.

According to people and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on technology that analyses users’ data to signal mental health concerns.

Those close to the project said the sensitive data analysed may include facial expressions, how people speak, typing behaviour, mobility and sleep patterns.

The heart and respiration rates of users and the pace and frequency at which they walk could also be measured.

The WSJ reports Apple’s depression efforts to come are part of two different research partnerships.

The first project, codenamed ‘Seabreeze’, is with the University of California on the study of stress, anxiety and depression.

The second is a partnership with pharmaceutical company Biogen on the study of mild cognitive impairment, which are conditions that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Both projects are in their early stages.

Reports suggest UCLA has been working with Apple Watch and iPhone data since December, acquiring data from 150 people, which will rise to 3000 later this year.

Apple iPhone depression

Sensitive data is allegedly gathered from iPhones and Apple Watches in the research. Photo: Getty

Its researchers track data from the iPhone’s video camera, the keyboard and audio sensors, and data from the watch including movement, vital signs and sleep.

They may also measure participants’ facial movements, speech patterns, the speed of a user’s typing, the frequency of errors and what content they type.

“Each bit of data could give researchers clues about device users’ emotions, concentration, energy level, state of mind and more, according to the people and the documents,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

It aims to combine this data with questionnaires completed by participants about how they feel to note any signals of relevant mental health conditions.

Researchers are also looking at the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in follicles of participants’ hair.

WSJ reports that researchers hope to implement those signals into an app or feature in the Apple devices that could warn people of their mental health risk and prompt them to seek care.

Meanwhile, Biogen and Apple confirmed in January they were collaborating on data tracking for the iPhone and Apple Watch to identify cognitive function and impairment.

Apple iPhone depression

Early signals of cognitive impairment could help detect warning signs of Alzheimer’s in users. Photo: Getty

According to the report, Biogen hopes to encourage Apple to develop an iPhone feature to detect early impairment and help people seek care earlier.

The study will follow 20,000 participants over two years, using their data to document possible changes.

Half of the participants are said to be at high risk of cognitive impairment.

No further detail of the extent of the studies has been revealed.

Apple has previously worked with researchers on health features that were later implemented.

In 2019, Stanford University researchers found in combination with an Apple Watch study, wearable technology could help detect an irregular heart rhythm better known as atrial fibrillation.

In May, Apple updated its Apple Watch software to send a notification if atrial fibrillation is identified for Australians.

Topics: Apple, Depression
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