A new report claims that Apple is developing a new technology that can help diagnose depression, cognitive decline and other mental illnesses.
By working with UCLA and biotechnology company Biogen, Apple hopes to make more use of health-related sensors in its devices.
The company already has extensive health-related technology offerings, including heart, sleep and activity monitoring through its Apple Watch and iPhone phones.
Informed sources told the Wall Street Journal that the researchers will use data from iPhone sensors to search for digital signals associated with some mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, and enter them into an algorithm.
This should be able to reliably predict depression and other conditions and form the basis for new features in a future version of Apple’s iOS operating system.
The partnership with Biogen is also focused on studying mild cognitive impairment among users, according to several unidentified Apple employees who spoke to The Wall Street Journal, in a report published Tuesday, September 21.
The report notes that there are two research projects related to the development of this technology, and they include the University of California project, codenamed “Seabreeze”, which explores stress, anxiety and depression in partnership with “Apple”.
The other, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Biogen’s project, codenamed ‘Pi’, has set out to study MCI.
Apple has not yet confirmed the details in the Wall Street Journal report, or whether it will actually lead to new features being added to the iPhone.
To effectively diagnose a mental health condition, the patient needs close monitoring by experts to look for changes in behavior from the norm.
Changes in phone use behavior in place of these professionals can be used to give an early indication, especially in areas where specialists may not be widely available.
The University of California, Los Angeles, says that its research on signs of stress, anxiety and depression began in an experimental phase using fall-tracking features in Apple Watches and iPhones in 2020.
The research team is working to expand this to use data from 3,000 people this year, and will track data from the iPhone’s camera, keyboard and sound sensors and combine it with information from the watch about movement, sleep and vital signs.
It could include facial expressions, how volunteers talk, how often they go for a walk, how well they sleep as well as their heart and breathing rates.
People “close to the study” told the Wall Street Journal that they might also be looking at writing speed, frequency of typos, content they write and other points.
These are all believed to be “digital signals” that indicate signs of a mental health condition.
Reports suggest that researchers at UCLA ask volunteers to fill out questionnaires about their mental health and look for stress hormones in their hair follicles to see if the data matches up.
A future app, possibly Apple Health, could warn a user that they are at risk and should seek professional care.
Meanwhile, Biogen is working with a group of 20,000 participants who use an iPhone and an Apple Watch to track cognitive function over a two-year period.
She hopes this will be used to identify mild cognitive impairment, a condition that often leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Similar to the University of California project, it could result in new iPhone features that could warn people that they are at risk and suggest they seek help earlier than they might otherwise.
Source: Daily Mail