A team of researchers from Northwestern might have discovered the smartphone based diagnostic method for depression, by applying known data to current technology.
There are certain behavioral modifications that are associated with depression and that can herald some serious conditions. These mainly include apathy, isolation and a general tendency towards disillusion. Normally, a doctor or a therapist needs to spend quite some time with the patient, in order to reach a diagnosis.
Furthermore, monitoring the patient throughout the course of the treatment can prove to be difficult if either the doctor or the patient is has a busy schedule. Also, relapses are hard to keep track of, because patients are seldom unaware of their shift in condition.
A group of researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at Northwestern wanted to test out a theory that they had, involving smartphones. And so, they gathered up a small group of subjects, that was fairly homogenous. They chose a total of 28 men and women, with ages from 19 to 58 and gave them a standard diagnostic test for depression, so as to have a generally accepted assessment of their subjects.
Then, they put their theory into practice and for two weeks, the people were provided with two types of tracking devices on their phones, while they were supposed to go about their business as they normally would, without any kind of restriction.
The first one was meant to measure exactly how much time they spend on their smartphones throughout the course of each day, and the second one was meant to tack their location in order to create some sort of a daily route.
These two parameters could then be used to determine if the subjects were borderline depressed or actually in the middle of a depressive episode. The scientists selected these two parameters because they are both linked to several behavioral patterns that are almost specific to depression.
For instance, depressed people find it difficult to leave their house most of the time, because this clearly implies social interaction. And so, they are generally known to avoid doing so as much as possible and remain at home, where they feel safe. This is something that the location tracker could easily suggest.
As for the amount of time spent tapping away on a smartphone, this could also reveal quite a few facts relevant to the diagnosis of depression. An increase in smartphone use may suggest that the user might be using the phone to escape the unfavorable conditions of reality. While extended smartphone use does not clearly imply that a person is undergoing depression, it might be of some use when correlated with the rest of the information.
At the end of the two week period, the scientists conducted a detailed assessment of the data and the results were even more impressive than they were expecting. Both the standard diagnostic test and smartphone-based method revealed that 14 subjects were completely healthy and that the rest were suffering from mild to serious depression.
However, despite the success of the study and of the method, this small study is only the beginning because it does not supply enough information to start developing a full sized app just yet. What it does provide is proof for the researchers that they are on the right track and that it might prove useful to pursue this project further.
Even if the smartphone-based method is eventually approved and put in use, its results will still need to be corroborated by a professional examination. It would prove useful for patients though, because it would be an easy to use method of finding out when they should consider seeking professional help for their issues, whether it is in the beginning of depressive episode, or part of relapse from and older occurrence.
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