Apple Watch may be able to detect signs of dementia, brain decline

Apple has slowly but surely been turning its Apple Watch into a tiny medical lab, equipping it with various sensors to paint a picture of the wearer's health and medical condition. There is no shortage of anecdotes and testimonies of how every new Apple Watch feature has saved lives, either through diagnosis or prognosis. Most of those, however, come from the usual heart-related sensors and measurements. A new study, however, is now looking into whether the Apple Watch can also be used to determine the wearer's mental health as well.

Mental health is harder to catch than direct physiological problems. Without voluntarily submitting to scans and checkups, it is nearly impossible to detect dementia or Alzheimer's until they're already there. Apple and pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly are now conducting research to determine if the Apple Watch can help in that regard.

It's not going to be direct detection unlike using the new ECG sensor for atrial fibrillation or afib. Instead, the research is looking into whether the wearer's behavior can give clues to brain decline. Specifically, behaviors that can be captured by an iPhone, an Apple Watch, and a Beddit sleep monitor

The study was composed of 82 healthy persons and 31 with cognitive decline and dementia. The latter, when not taking their medication, tended to type slower and sent fewer messages. They also filled out less surveys and naturally relied on more support apps than healthier counterparts.

Of course, there's no direct correlation yet between these data and cognitive decline and the study is far from conclusive. It's a rather big leap from detecting afib to detecting dementia but it does show Apple's interest in turning the Apple Watch into a health device.