Apple working on iPhone features to detect depression, cognitive decline

Using an array of sensor data that includes mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, typing behavior and more, researchers hope they can tease out digital signals associated with the target conditions so that algorithms can be created to detect them reliably, the people said. Apple hopes that would become the basis for unique features for its devices, according to the people and documents.

The efforts spring from research partnerships that Apple has announced with the University of California, Los Angeles, which is studying stress, anxiety and depression, and pharmaceutical company Biogen Inc., BIIB +1.19% which is studying mild cognitive impairment. “Seabreeze” is Apple’s code name for the UCLA project and “Pi” is the code name for the Biogen project, according to the people and documents…

The research projects are still at early stages, and may never lead to new device features, the people said. While prior academic studies have shown some evidence that people with certain mental-health conditions use their digital devices differently than others, it remains to be seen if reliable algorithms can be created to detect the conditions, according to researchers.

Proper diagnosis of mental-health conditions and brain disorders typically requires close observation by specialists, but many people have no access to such specialists. Researchers working with Apple hope their work leads to a widely available alternative.