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iPhone could detect depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline - Apple studies

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Apple believes that an iPhone could detect depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline, using a number of digital clues. Health data used would include physical activity and sleep patterns.

For privacy protection, Apple is aiming for all of the diagnosis work to be carried out on the device, with no data sent to its servers …

The WSJ reports.

Apple Inc. is working on technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, aiming for tools that could expand the scope of its burgeoning health portfolio, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal […]

The data that may be used includes analysis of participants' facial expressions, how they speak, the pace and frequency of their walks, sleep patterns, and heart and respiration rates. They may also measure the speed of their typing, frequency of their typos and content of what they type, among other data points, according to the people familiar with the research and the documents […]

The efforts spring from research partnerships that Apple has announced with the University of California, Los Angeles, which is studying stress, anxiety and depression, and pharmaceutical company Biogen which is studying mild cognitive impairment. "Seabreeze" is Apple's code name for the UCLA project and "Pi" is the code name for the Biogen project, according to the people and documents […]

The extent of user tracking that may be required could spark privacy concerns. To address them, Apple aims for algorithms that work on users' devices and don't send the data to Apple servers, the documents show.

Mild cognitive impairment can be an early sign of Alzheimer's.

The UCLA study will track data for 3,000 volunteers starting this year, while the Biogen one aims to recruit around 20,000 people to participate over the next two years, around half of which will have risk factors for cognitive impairment.

The piece stresses that this work is at a very early stage, and may come to nothing. While it's known that things like depression do lead to different patterns of smartphone use, the challenge is creating algorithms that are sufficiently reliable to accurately diagnose specific conditions.

However, Apple execs are said to be optimistic.

Even though the effort is at an early stage, top Apple executives are excited about the possibility. Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, who oversees Apple's health unit, has spoken enthusiastically to employees about the company's potential to address surging rates of depression and anxiety as well as other brain disorders, according to people who have heard him talk about the efforts.

Photo: Arif Riyanto/Unsplash

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