We live in a time where you probably feel very anxious and depressed if you accidentally leave your smartphone behind and are forced brave the day without it. Your smartphone knows it, too.
A study published in July in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that sensors located in our mobile devices can help identify depression. In following along these same lines, a new study reveals that the tech can also help detect bipolar disorder.
Dr. Venet Osmani at the Center for Research and Telecommunication Experimental for Networked Communities in Trento, Italy conducted a four-month study from 2012 to 2013 that consisted of 12 bipolar patients. The Italian researcher then checked in on the participants every three weeks to analyze and monitor their illness by conducting conventional mental health exams such as counseling.
According to the more than 1,000 days of smartphone data, the researcher found that the amount of smartphone activity and location data could help detect and predict a change in the participants' mood at the rate of 94 percent. When also monitoring phone calls for frequencies and the length of the calls, the accuracy number increases up to 97 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bipolar disorder as a mood disorder where the individual suffers from episodes of depression and mania, where mania is characterized by "clearly elevated, unrestrained, or irritable mood which may manifest in an exaggerated assessment of self-importance or grandiosity, sleeplessness, racing thoughts, pressured speech, and the tendency to engage in activities which appear pleasurable, but have a high potential for adverse consequences."
With this in mind, smartphone sensors, such as GPS and accelerometer speed in particular, are able to measure if a patient is experiencing a manic or depressive episode whether they begin racing around to places or remained at one place for a long period of time. Monitoring the length and frequency of calls could also detect if the person is in a manic episode as well. Not picking up calls could inform doctors that the patient prefers to be left alone and may be suffering from depression.
Using smartphone technology can thus help detect an oncoming shift of mood in real-time and help doctors treat them in a more timely manner — which can be much more effective than having patients fill out questionnaires to determine their moods.
Of course, the sample of the study was small and only conducted over a short period of time; however, Dr. Osmani has already begun to step up a follow-up study.
Photo: Ryan Melaugh | Flickr