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Biogen will use Apple Watch to study symptoms of dementia

Biogen is launching a new virtual research study in collaboration with Apple, one that will look into how an Apple Watch and iPhone could help monitor a person's cognitive decline, a potential symptom of dementia and neurological diseases.

The study will last for multiple years, and will launch later in 2021. People across a wide range of ages and cognitive performance levels will be asked to take part by Biogen, with the aim of determining whether wearable devices like the Apple Watch could be used for long-term cognitive performance monitoring.

The ultimate goal is to develop digital biomarkers for cognitive performance monitoring over time, which could potentially help detect early signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

At present, there are significant delays in recognizing declines in cognitive health, which affects between 15 and 20% of adults over the age of 65. The subtle onset of symptoms, including being easily distracted and memory loss, can potentially take months or even years before it is observed as a cognitive decline by healthcare providers.

"The successful development of digital biomarkers in brain health would help address the significant need to accelerate patient diagnoses and empower physicians and individuals to take timely action," said Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos."For healthcare systems, such advancements in cognitive biomarkers from large-scale studies could contribute significantly to prevention and better population-based health outcomes, and lower costs to health systems."

Apple hopes the study "can help the medical community better understand a person's cognitive performance by simply having them engage with their Apple Watch and iPhone," said Apple COO Jeff Williams. "We're looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes through improved detection of declining cognitive health."

The Apple Watch has been used for a number of health studies in the past, conducted through the Research app. This includes a study to detect heart issues before they become a problem, a hearing study monitoring ambient sound volumes, and activity and movement.

The study is designed to ensure consumer privacy, control, and transparency, with a focus on data security. Participants will complete a detailed consent from listing the collected data types and how they are used and shared before taking part, and can withdraw at any time.