UCLA explores using Apple Watch, iPhone to diagnose depression

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UCLA doctors are looking into new tools for diagnosing depression.
An iPhone and an Apple Watch could be important tools for diagnosing depression.
Photo: Negative Space/Pexels CC

UCLA launched a new study on Tuesday, sponsored by and in collaboration with Apple, designed to help revolutionize detection and treatment of depression.

It’ll follow the daily routines of Apple Watch and iPhone users, and examine the relationship between this data and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Gathering hard data on diagnosing depression

The study is being lead by Dr. Nelson Freimer, distinguished professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge. “This collaboration, which harnesses UCLA’s deep research expertise and Apple’s innovative technology, has the potential to transform behavioral health research and clinical care,” Freimer said.

The goal is to gather hard data to help doctors treat this condition. The alternative is the same method for diagnosing depression doctors have used for more than a century: Observe patients, and ask them how they are feeling.

“Current approaches to treating depression rely almost entirely on the subjective recollections of depression sufferers,” noted Freimer. The UCLA study using Apple technology tracking the sleep, physical activity, heart rate of participants hopes to change that. “This is an important step for obtaining objective and precise measurements that guide both diagnosis and treatment.”

The pilot phase of the study, involving 150 participants recruited from among UCLA Health patients, begins the week of August 4. The main phases, which will take place from 2021 through 2023, will involve some 3,000 participants, drawn both from UCLA Health patients and the university’s student body.

In addition to an Apple Watch, participants will receive a Beddit sleep monitor, which they will use for the duration of the study. This is necessary, as sleep tracking is not yet available in Apple’s wearable. But that’ll change this autumn with watchOS 7.

Source: UCLA