With up to 27 percent of Americans expected to own a wearable device by 2024, the data these produce could provide invaluable insights on a user’s health. A new study says wearables and mobile phone apps may be able to detect early signs of dementia.
Apple and Eli Lilly and Company have teamed up with health tech startup, Evidation Health, on a study whose preliminary results show that an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad and the Beddit sleep monitoring device, in combination with digital apps may be able to detect people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild Alzheimer’s disease, dementia.
The preliminary results of the study titled “Developing Measures of Cognitive Impairment in the Real World from Consumer-Grade Multimodal Sensor Streams,” were presented on August 8 at the Association for Computing Machinery’s KDD conference in Anchorage.
How the study was carried out
Nikki Marinsek, a data scientist at Evidation Health, said the past few years have demonstrated the value of wearables in providing data and insights that have enabled people living with health conditions, along with their clinicians, to better monitor their health.
“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,” Marinsek said.
The study used data from iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads, as well as Apple’s Beddit sleep monitor. It was carried out over 12 weeks and evaluated 113 participants between the ages of 60 and 75, in real-world settings. The participants included a control of 82 healthy people and 31 with varying stages of cognitive decline and dementia.
The study was conducted between December 2017 and August 2018 and sought to determine whether Apple devices, when used in combination with mobile applications, were able to help identify cognitive and behavioral differences among the study participants with and without mild cognitive impairment
Participants each received Apple wearable consumer devices, an iPhone 7 Plus, which was to be used as a primary phone, an Apple Watch Series 2, a 10.5 inch iPad Pro with a smart keyboard, and a Beddit sleep monitoring device along with apps to collect all sensor and app-usage events.
Evidation collected 16 terabytes of data across a number of sources, including: passively derived sensor data from the smart devices, questionnaires about mood and energy, and simple assessment activities on the Digital Assessment App. Participants were also asked to carry out simple tasks to test motor skills such as rhythmically tapping the screen as fast as possible or dragging shapes onto each other, as well as reading and typing tasks.
Researchers found that people with symptoms of cognitive decline typed slower, sent fewer text messages and relied more on helper apps than healthy participants. The researchers stressed that these were preliminary results and so they could not draw any long-term conclusions. They stated that more analysis was needed.
Wearables offer much promise
A statement said the findings of the exploratory study provide feasibility evidence that wearable devices could enable solutions that may help identify and indicate when people are starting to experience cognitive decline.
“Specifically, these results show that Apple devices and digital applications may have the potential to monitor symptoms of people diagnosed with MCI or mild Alzheimer’s disease dementia; detect cognitive changes that could be indicative of MCI; test the efficacy of treatments and therapies; and accelerate the development of therapies used in conjunction with traditional diagnostic tools to improve accuracy of diagnoses,” the joint statement said.
Christine Lemke, co-founder and President of Evidation Health, said: “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. These early findings suggest the potential of novel digital measures that are based on data generated and controlled by individuals.”
Eli Lilly’s chief digital officer, Divakar Ramakrishnan said the study was part of their efforts to broaden the application of digital health to identify tools that may improve the lives of people with chronic conditions and diseases.
“While further research is needed, the study findings provide important insight into the potential benefits of wearable devices in identifying chronic health conditions such as MCI, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. These findings could inform subsequent research that may eventually lead to early screening or detection tools for neurodegenerative conditions,” said Ramakrishnan.
Myoung Cha, Apple’s Head of Health Strategic Partnerships, said they were excited to work with Eli Lilly and Evidation in supporting the research community as they seek to discover digital biomarkers of cognitive impairment.
In the U.S. it is estimated that 5.5 million people have Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia. The disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Worldwide, an estimated 44 million people have the disease.
Apple has been making big moves in the health sector in recent years. The company teamed up with the University of Michigan on a study to see how the Apple Watch can help detect diseases.
Apple’s latest watch has an ECG feature, while a study it carried out with Stanford University School of Medicine wearable technology can safely identify heart rate irregularities that are later confirmed to be atrial fibrillation, one of the main causes of stroke and subsequent hospitalization in the United States.