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According to recent tech and medical publications, Apple Inc. is developing technology with the intent to help diagnose depression and cognitive decline, vying for new tools with the potential to expand the scope of the company’s increasing health portfolio.

With a wide range of sensor data that addresses mobility, physical activity, sleep trends, typing behavior patterns, and more, Apple researchers are working to establish digital signals associated with the target conditions to create algorithms that can more readily detect them. If research proves fruitful, Apple could create a foundation to build more unique and helpful features for its future products.

Other data measurements could incorporate facial expression analysis and heart and respiration rates, and all data processing would theoretically happen on a given user device with no medical information sent to Apple servers. While there are no guaranteed features, prior academic studies have produced evidence that individuals with specific mental-health conditions use their digital devices differently than others. So it’s unknown if reliable algorithms can be created to detect such conditions and their affiliated behaviors across user populations. 

Improving Depression With Technology

According to Faraz Hussain, the head developer at BiAffect, an academic project at the University of Illinois Chicago, for people with severe neurological or mood disorders, the research could substantially improve their lives. The potential detection tools could help medically-relevant interventions happen more quickly and even help prevent worse outcomes.

Apple has worked on previous healthcare features after collaborating with researchers, and it introduced new medical functions to smart devices before. For example, efforts at Stanford University discovered that Apple’s smartwatch could identify an irregular heart rhythm officially called atrial fibrillation. Shortly after, Apple included a watch feature to do just that. And it’s not just Apple — UCLA stated its recent research toward studying signs of stress, anxiety, and depression started with a prototype phase in the Fall of 2020 to track Apple Watch and iPhone data from 150 people. This research is also expected to continue through this year.

Demand For Medical Functionality And Care

For companies like Apple and institutions like UCLA and The University of  Illinois Chicago, each bit of data could give researchers important clues about device users’ emotions, concentration habits, energy levels, states of mind and more. If academic and corporate research finds that any data correlates with relevant mental-health conditions, the hope is to turn those signals into an app or feature that could alert users when and if they might be at risk and prompt them to seek professional help.

Among its wide range of global effects, the pandemic increased mental-health related complaints, and the percentage of adults reporting anxiety or depression-related symptoms reached 41% in January, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s nearly four times more than the early-2019 figure, so there is clearly a need for improved medical-detection functionality on devices common to everyone’s daily lives. But when and how such advancements arrive is still being understood and tested.

Until novel advancements in our accessible mobile devices come to fruition, the most reliable way to improve your mental health is to seek professional care, including expertise from a therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression or have a few questions you’d like addressed, the TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley is determined to help you live life to its healthiest potential. Contact us today for more information about our treatments and meet with our experienced team of professionals.