According to the findings of a recent study, smartphones could detect signs of depression and could therefore be used to effortlessly monitor patients.
Increased smartphone usage has been linked to depression in countless research studies up to this point, due to the fact that people undergoing depressive episodes seek solace in their smartphones, because they offer an alternative to their unsatisfactory reality.
A team of researchers from the Faculty Of Medicine at Northwestern University have decided to look at this matter from the exact opposite standpoint. Since we already know that prolonged smartphone use and depression have been heavily interlinked by numerous studies, it would of great help if we could use this fact to our advantage.
Smartphones are virtually indispensable to the present generation, to both those who are suffering from depression and those who are completely healthy. Smartphones are packed with a immense collection of apps that can detect a wide variety of factors and features about the user of the phone, such as their heartbeat or the number of steps that they have taken on a certain day.
What the Northwestern researchers decided to test out was even simpler than that. They only needed to know how much time people used their smartphones and their did so extremely easily by tracking the exact usage time. Also, they wanted to get periodic information from the people’s GPS programs, so that they could track the people’s movement.
They needed to get information on the people’s movement pattern, so that they could observe if they spend prolonged periods of time in the comfort of their homes and little time away, with friends and family for entertainment, socializing and relaxation. This lack of motivation to leave the house and to keep movement to a minimum is a clear sign of depression.
Their theory was that the amount of time that people spend on their phones and their movement pattern could be telltale signs of depression and therefore, if these features would be tracked periodically, they could detect depressive tendencies from their incipient stages.
And so, they developed a small study on a total of 28 people, who agreed to share information about the two factors with the researchers. And the subjects were tracked for a period of two weeks and at the end, the researchers found that 14 subjects were displaying signs of mild to severe depression and that the rest of the 14 were depression free.
In order to corroborate their results, the researchers submitted their subjects to a PHQ-9 test at the beginning of the two week trial period. This is a highly respected diagnosis test utilized for detecting signs of depression that assesses a wide variety of factors such as the level of sadness of the subject, the frequency of feelings of hopelessness and generalized loss of excitement and pleasure.
Their findings revealed that their smartphone based diagnosis method was actually extremely accurate, because it showed the exact same results that the PHQ-9 test did. Therefore, there is hope for this means of testing depressive behavior becoming used in the future.
However, the Northwestern method still needs to be much further tested, as the results of this initial study can only convey limited assurance, due to the small size of the study. It remains to be seen if future testing will be able to demonstrate the full potential of the smartphone method.
This could be an extremely accessible method of monitoring depressive patients, who have a tendency to relapse frequently. A simple tracker could alert both the patient and the doctor when a risk point has been reached.
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