Apple developing iPhone features to detect depression, cognitive decline

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In an effort to expand iPhones' ability to detect health conditions, Apple has partnered with the University of California Los Angeles for a mental health study and drugmaker Biogen for a study focusing on cognitive decline, sources familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

The news signals that Apple's health unit is looking to launch condition detection features in the company's flagship product, the iPhone. Below are five things to know about the projects:

  1. Apple’s code name for the UCLA project is "Seabreeze." In fall of 2020, researchers studied signs of stress, anxiety and depression in a pilot phase tracking Apple Watch and iPhone data from 150 people. This year, the project will move to a main phase tracking similar data for 3,000 people.

  2. Seabreeze researchers track data from the iPhone’s video camera, keyboard and audio sensors. From the Apple Watch, they track data related to movement, vital signs and sleep. The data may be used to analyze participants' facial expressions, gaits, speaking patterns, sleeping patterns, heart rates and respiration rates. It may also be used to measure typing speed, frequency of typos and the content of what they type.

  3. If Seabreeze researchers find that the data correlates with mental health conditions, Apple could roll out a feature that warns iPhone and Apple Watch users they might be at risk and prompt them to seek treatment.

  4. Apple’s code name for its project with Biogen is "Pi." The companies are working together on a two-year study aiming to include about 2,000 participants, half of them at high risk of cognitive impairment. Pi researchers will use device data, similarly to how Seabreeze researchers do, to track signs of mild cognitive impairment.

  5. Apple will compare Pi's data to standard brain health tests. The hope is that Apple can roll out a feature to detect mild cognitive impairment early and prompt users to seek care.

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