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Doctor develops app that gives early warning to people with bipolar disorder

Smartphone with apps

Smartphone apps monitor all sorts of health related issues... from diet, to exercise, to drugs, even to your heart. And now it seems that researchers have developed and are testing an app that will be used to predict when a manic episode is imminent in patients with bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder alternate between crushing depression that can make life unbearable and wild manic episodes that come with the dangerous mix of uncontrollable energy and impaired judgment that often leads to seriously risky behavior.

Drugs can prevent these episodes and allow people with bipolar disorder to live normal lives, but the drugs need to be managed and relapses are common.

This app is designed to give early detection of a swing in mood. This early warning would give doctors a chance to adjust a patients medications and stave off full-blown mania before it reaches the point where the patient's insight is compromised to such an extent that they don't feel anything is wrong.

How does it do this? When people are experiencing a manic or depressive episode, their speech patterns change. Depressed patients tend to speak slowly, with long pauses, whereas people with a full-blown manic attack tend to speak extremely rapid and jump from topic to topic.

It occurred to me a number of years ago that monitoring speech patterns would be a really powerful way to devise some kind of an approach to have the ability to predict when an episode is imminent,...
Dr. Melvin McInnis , a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Medical Center

Dr. McInnis recruited some computer science colleagues and together they invented a smartphone app that would do just that. This app records whenever the patient talks on the phone, then once a day the phone sends the recorded speech to a computer in the doctor's office where the recorded speech patterns are analyzed for speed, energy and inflection.

The app is currently being tested with 12 or 15 volunteers who are participating in a longitudinal study of bipolar disorder. McInnis and his colleagues presented preliminary results at this year's International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing.

Thus far the results are promising. The software is reasonably good at detecting signs of an impending manic attack. But... It's not quite as good at catching oncoming depression.

Source: Phone App Might Predict Manic Episodes In Bipolar Disorder by Joe Palca for NPR

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