Could Your Cell Phone Reveal Symptoms of Alzheimer’s?

Since smartphones hit the market, the modern world as we now know it, has certainly changed.

Nearing my 30th birthday, I still remember when pagers were the big thing — and when we wanted to use dial-up Internet, we’d have to kick my mom off the phone. We tend to laugh about it now, as it seems almost prehistoric in terms of where we are today.

Take our mobile phones for example — you can do just about anything with your smartphone.

Although we often use our phones to maintain a social life, plan ahead, or track our daily steps, the possibilities appear to be endless. This is why researchers are utilizing various apps and programs to identify key aspects of human behavior. In fact, they are now using data analytics to potentially identify neurological disorders.

Could smartphones help us measure changes in neurological function? Could this be the next stepping stone in relation to a diagnosis?

How Data Analytics May Provide Neurological Clues

Professors and researchers at Arizona State, have partnered with Slate and New America, in the hopes that they’ll be able to effectively measure everyday activities. From walking to typing, they are aiming to track brain health and function over time.

How, you ask?

Well, the modern day smartphone, of course.

Currently, 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone — with 77 percent of the population owning a smartphone. Each and every day, we use a range of mobile and web apps in order to support our daily routines. What you may not be aware of, is that every time you send a text or message on Facebook, you’re providing clues into your neurological health.

From the way we communicate to where we go, our smartphones present a unique opportunity. Within their current work, these researchers are focusing on:

  • Signal processing

  • Speech and language

  • Mathematics

As analytics are collected, they are interested in how that data can be used to solve problems. Within their very first case study, they actually focused on President Ronald Reagan. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, by studying the type of language he used in press conferences, they were able to identify key warning signs six years before his official diagnosis.

This has been replicated a number of times, focusing on varying neurological disorders, across specific populations. Although exciting, health-related applications aren’t available just yet. In comparison to an algorithm on Google, for instance, when using A.I. to support a diagnosis, the repercussions could be lethal.

Sure, there are still some key obstacles and researchers have a ways to go, but we are getting closer than ever before. As we expand our understanding of Alzheimer’s, as well as supportive technology, the possibilities continue to expand. It’s about finding that balance, as technology pushes us beyond our limits.

Smartphones Have Already Stepped Up to the Plate, Assisting Alzheimer’s Patients

For some, they’re conflicted in terms of their views surrounding advancing technology. Although some concerns are valid, modern society has evolved based on our interaction with these technological advances. Take brain imaging technologies as a great example — without these techniques, we’d still be largely in the dark regarding Alzheimer’s.

Today, through the use of smartphone technology, many patients are already benefiting. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Locator devices and tracking apps — helping to address wandering and issues surrounding insomnia.

  • Technology-based medication aids.

  • BrainTest — an app used to help detect potential early warning signs.

  • Helping patients maintain memory based on time-management and scheduling services.

In fact, the last example is based on a newly released study. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, it was found that smartphones may actually help Alzheimer’s patients maintain their memory. Within this small trial, a retired teacher had been experiencing memory issues 12 months prior to the study.

In order to intervene, a psychologist from the University of Lille, offered Google Calendar. This service helps individuals better schedule upcoming events and appointments, while benefiting from time-management. She accepted the proposal, and was delighted at how discrete the assistance was, in comparison to paper-based notes.

Customized to fit her lifestyle, she received alerts regarding her weekly bridge game, mass at church, and medical appointments. Although this study needs to be repeated on a larger scale, it clearly shows how smartphone applications and memory aids can assist everyday life among those living with Alzheimer’s.

Whenever possible, we need to work alongside technology in order to reach our goals.

After all, as David Blumenthal said, an academic physician and health care policy expert, “Information is the lifeblood of medicine and health information technology is destined to be the circulatory system for that information.”

With each advancement in terms of Alzheimer’s research, as we uncover one clue after the other, this could not be more apparent. To stay up-to-date with the latest research surrounding the Alzheimer’s community, please subscribe to our newsletter.

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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