iPhone & Apple Watch study launches to detect depression, dementia

in iPhone
Biogen has launched a new study with Apple and UCLA to evaluate how existing iPhone and Apple Watch sensors could detect symptoms of dementia, depression, and other neurological diseases.

Apple HealtKit
Apple HealtKit

First announced in January 2021, pharmaceutical company Biogen's multi-year study has now begun.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Biogen refers to its study under the codename Pi, while Apple's code name for its related work with UCLA is Seabreeze.

No further details of the extent of the study have been revealed. However, it is reported that the data being studied includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, and even typing behaviour.

However, at launch, Apple's Jeff Williams said that the aim is ultimately to improve people's health and lives.

"[The study] can help the medical community better understand a person's cognitive performance by simply having them engage with their Apple Watch and iPhone," said Williams. "We're looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes through improved detection of declining cognitive health."

Also at the launch in January 2021, Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos explained how the development and use of "digital biomarkers," recognized indicators of health, could benefit patients and physicians.

"The successful development of digital biomarkers in brain health would help address the significant need to accelerate patient diagnoses and empower physicians and individuals to take timely action," said Vounatsos.

"For healthcare systems," he continued, "such advancements in cognitive biomarkers from large-scale studies could contribute significantly to prevention and better population-based health outcomes, and lower costs to health systems."

Separately, as this Apple study with UCLA and Biogen gets underway, Apple itself has reportedly been reducing its own Health division.

Read on AppleInsider


  • Reply 1 of 2
    Much of the future for research is tied to the Apple Watch as chronic, age related type conditions can mostly only be studied with population based studies.   But those studies are hobbled and compromised by a lack of good data as they historically have relied on patient recall ("How many hours did you exercise last month?").

    The Apple Watch and the iPhone can now provide a constant stream of cheap, easily accessible, high quality data in real time.

    But, how well it will be able to study dementia and depression is, in my opinion, questionable:  typically those studies rely on silly meaningless standardized questions that seldom tie to reality:   "In the last month how many times have you felt things were beyond your control?"

    Or for dementia:  the MMSE uses questions like having the person recall a list of random, unconnected things 5 or 10 minutes later.  My brain works visually, remembering things by connecting them -- not memorizing random junk.  I would have had trouble with that at 7 much less 70.
  • Reply 2 of 2
    Indeed. Some of these tests are even claimed to be "objective" while relying on subjective information from the patient.

    Still, better than nothing. "All models are wrong, but some are useful."
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