Apple, Eli Lilly studying whether iPhones and Apple Watches can detect signs of dementia

dementia study

Apple has teamed up with Eli Lilly to see if data from the iPhone and Apple Watch devices can help spot early signs of dementia.

According to research published this week, the two companies are working with health-tech startup Evidation to find ways to more quickly and precisely detect cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease with the help of popular consumer gadgets.

The study is the first to publicly link Apple and Eli Lilly. Of the 15 authors of the paper, five work for each company with the other five representing Evidation. It represents the latest sign that Apple’s health team is investing in deep medical research with traditional pharmaceutical players.

“With this research, we looked at how everyday behavior data, such as those captured by iPhones, Apple Watches, and Beddit sleep monitors, may be effective in differentiating between individuals with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease, and those without symptoms,” Evidation co-founder Christine Lemke told CNBC.

The early-stage study took place over 12 weeks, and included both an 82-person healthy control group and 31 individuals with varying stages of cognitive decline and dementia. Those who participated were asked to avoid taking medications that might impact the results, and each received an iPhone, Apple Watch and Beddit sleep tracker (Apple acquired Beddit in 2017).

The authors found that people with symptoms of cognitive decline typed more slowly, typed less regularly and sent fewer text messages than healthy participants. They also have a greater reliance on support apps and are less inclined to fill out surveys. Still, the researchers said there are limitations to the study, which didn’t draw any long-term conclusions because more analysis is needed.

There’s also the risk of presenting results to patients because of the increased anxiety it can cause. Plus, the authors write, there’s not much people can do to stem the decline.

More than 6 million people in the U.S. live with dementia, and early detection has been a persistent challenge.