Sensors from consumer-grade devices like iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads and Beddit sleep monitors capture enough data to spot mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease dementia, according to a new feasibility study conducted jointly by Apple, Eli Lilly and Company and Evidation Health researchers that was presented today at a research conference held in Anchorage, Alaska.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen how data and insights derived from wearables and mobile consumer devices have enabled people living with health conditions, along with their clinicians, to better monitor their health,” Nikki Marinsek, data scientist at Evidation Health and the study’s first author, said in a statement. “We know that insights from smart devices and digital applications can lead to improved health outcomes but we don’t yet know how those resources can be used to identify and accelerate diagnoses. The results of the trial set the groundwork for future research that may be able to help identify people with neurodegenerative conditions earlier than ever before.”
The 12-week Lilly Exploratory Digital Assessment Study was built on the back of Evidation’s platform for device-driven real-world data collection platform. In it, 31 participants aged 60 to 75 years with cognitive impairment and 82 without were provided with Apple’s devices and an assessment app. These products passively monitored the participants during their everyday lives, with questionnaires and psychomotor, reading and typing assessments delivered through the app rounding out the data collection.
After collecting and analyzing 16 terabytes of information, the team was able to identify several data-driven behavior characteristics associated with symptoms of cognitive decline. These included slower typing, daily first steps that were later or less regular, reduced texting, more time spent in helper apps and worse compliance with daily study surveys.
WHY IT MATTERS
These data provide a proof of concept that common consumer devices are collecting enough data to differentiate between users with or without cognitive decline, the researchers wrote. This suggests that a system could be devised that collects these data to monitor those with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, or automatically flags individuals that may be developing these symptoms.
“Lilly has been leading the fight against Alzheimer’s disease for more than 30 years, and we’re broadening the application of digital health to identify tools that may improve the lives of people with chronic conditions and diseases,” Divakar Ramakrishnan, chief digital officer at Eli Lilly, said in a statement. “While further research is needed, the study findings provide important insight into the potential benefits of wearable devices in identifying chronic health conditions such as MCI, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. These findings could inform subsequent research that may eventually lead to early screening or detection tools for neurodegenerative conditions.”
Not to be overlooked, however, are the study collaborators themselves. It’s little secret at this point that Apple is very interested in digital health, but a relationship with pharma mainstay Eli Lilly is another concrete step down that pathway. Likewise, the collaboration also another vote of confidence for Evidation and its device-driven real-world data platform.
“We are excited to work alongside Lilly and Evidation in supporting the research community, as they seek to discover digital biomarkers of cognitive impairment,” Myoung Cha, Apple’s head of health strategic partnerships, said in a statement.
THE LARGER TREND
Eli Lilly and Evidation’s relationship has already been well publicized, with the two broadening the scope of their multi-year partnership back in December. And Apple is no stranger to research partnerships with pharmas — earlier this year the company announced another program with Johnson & Johnson focused on the Apple Watch’s potential role in senior health monitoring.