Apple has been continuing its efforts to establish itself in the healthcare platform by adding health monitoring features to its iPhone and smartwatch. Now, the company has teamed up with Eli Lilly to see if data from Apple devices can help identify early signs of dementia. The results of the feasibility study showed that sensors from consumer-grade devices like iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads and Beddit sleep monitors can spot mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen how data and insights derived from wearables and mobile consumer devices have enabled people living with health conditions, along with their clinicians, to better monitor their health,” Nikki Marinsek, data scientist at Evidation Health and the study’s first author, said in a statement. “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. 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.”
For the study, the team recruited 113 participants, of whom 31 were suffering from dementia and other cognitive impairments. The control group of 82 participants were free from any type of cognitive ailments. All participants were provided an iPhone, Apple Watch and Beddit sleep tracker and were asked to refrain from treating symptoms with medication during the test phase.
The researchers used sensors in the iPhone to track steps taken, while data was pulled from apps that incorporate typing functions. The handset was also used to conduct a daily survey. Apple Watch tracked movement, heart rate, workout sessions, app usage, breathe sessions, hours standing and other metrics, while Beddit was employed to measure a user's circadian rhythm.
The study found that people with symptoms of cognitive decline typed more slowly, typed less regularly and sent fewer text messages than healthy participants. They also have a greater reliance on support apps and are less inclined to fill out surveys. Still, the researchers said there are limitations to the study, which didn’t draw any long-term conclusions because more analysis is needed.
There’s also the risk of presenting results to patients because of the increased anxiety it can cause. Plus, the authors write, there’s not much people can do to stem the decline.
The study will be discussed on Thursday at a conference in Alaska.