Apple has teamed up with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to investigate whether devices including the Apple Watch could be used to help spot the signs of dementia in users.
The two companies cooperated on a study with health start-up Evidation to look into ways to detect cognitive impairment using consumer devices. The study focused on behaviour with devices, rather than physical tracking. Although dementia was one focus, diseases including Alzheimer's could also be spotted.
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Apple has made it clear that health tracking and features are important to its strategy going forward, from beefing up its Health app to including fall detection and an ECG in the Apple Watch Series 4. This study indicates that that commitment has plenty more mileage to go.
The 12-week study observed users interacting with iPhones, Apple Watches and Beddit sleep trackers. A control group of 81 participants were healthy, while 31 participants were suffering from cognitive decline or dementia.
It found that those suffering from cognitive impairment were slower at typing and did so less often, sending fewer messages overall when compared with healthy participants.
It could therefore be possible to draw links between behaviour towards devices and cognitive health, an encouraging idea. Apple's own ResearchKit software lets researchers collect data from devices including the Apple Watch for medical research purposes, meaning that there's a lot of potential for further study.
As with many early-stage studies, the authors in this case have been clear to point out that this doesn't offer any firm conclusions, and it's not likely that Apple will announce any actual products to deal with dementia particularly soon, but it's encouraging to see that people's relationship to their devices could eventually contribute to an early-warning system for certain diseases.