By On May 19th, 2014

Can a Smartphone App Help Individuals With Bipolar Disorder?

Could a smartphone app detect early signs of mood alterations in bipolar disorder patients that may require immediate professional attention by analyzing their voice? Researchers from the University of Michigan have developed an app they believe can do just that.

NexusBipolar disorder affects over 5 million adult Americans or approximately 2.6% of the adult population every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. More troubling, experts report up to 20 percent of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder commit suicide.

The condition often manifests in two distinct moods or patterns of behaviors in sufferers. Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience manic periods, during which they tend to behave impulsively and recklessly, feel invincible, and frequently engage in high-risk activities. At the other end of the spectrum, bipolar individuals also go through periods of severe depression.

The team of researchers hope their smartphone app can effectively identify the first signs that a bipolar patient is becoming unstable.

The project, named PRIORI, works by noting subtle changes in a speaker’s voice that are considered indicative of mood instability. This way, patients may be able to be treated before they become a potential danger to themselves or others.
The app runs silently in the background as people talk on their cell phones. While you are making a call, the app is sending encrypted speech pattern data to a central computer that analyzes voice inflections and pacing.

One of the members of the team testing the experimental app, psychiatrist Melvin McInnis, believes it is best to look for the very early signs of mania because patients who advance to fully manifested manic episodes frequently refuse treatment.

“So, they are [thinking] that, ‘Hey, I am feeling great. And there’s nothing wrong with me. And don’t bother increasing my medication because I am fine,'” he said.

Patients in the middle of a manic episode often speak more quickly or loudly than usual, which is allowing for more promising results from the app. However, identifying the signs of a depressive episode is more tricky because many individuals try to hide their sense of despair or hopelessness.

Voice of America reported the announcement of the app at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing meeting in Italy.

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