Michigan Researchers Design App for Early Intervention in Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder affecting tens of millions of people worldwide is characterised by alternative manic and depression episodes. The medical condition often leads to dangerous, erratic behavior including suicide attempts.

In an attempt to detect early signs of mood changes in people with bipolar disorder, University of Michigan researchers have designed and developed the PRIORI app. The android app listens to the user's phone conversations and identifies slight changes in their voice patterns that are connected to the onset of manic or depressive episodes.

When the patterns are identified, both - the patient and their caregivers - are notified so that mediation and precautionary measures are taken immediately to stabilize their moods. Keeping in mind the user's privacy concerns, only the patient's conversations are recorded and encrypted. Care teams only get a report based on the processed data and cannot listen to the recorded audio.

"We collect speech data from the smart phone and process the data in a privacy preserving manner to learn the acoustic patterns associated with harmful mood variations," said Emily Mower Provost, assistant professor of computer science and engineering who co-led the project, in a statement.

The smart phone app successfully tested on a group of patients, with Type 1 bipolar disorder, could detect manic and depressed moods. It emitted early warnings of their changing moods while protecting privacy.

"These pilot study results give us preliminary proof of the concept that we can detect mood states in regular phone calls by analyzing broad features and properties of speech, without violating the privacy of those conversations," said Fellow Zahi Karam, a postdoctoral fellow and specialist in machine learning and speech analysis.

Researchers said that in order to better predict the mood changes, the smart phone app needs to be used more frequently in order to get familiarised with the patient.

PRIORI app could also be used to predict other disorders like schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease as they are also diagnosed based on the changes in speech patterns.

A latest study by the Lancaster University in the United Kingdom and Yale University in Connecticut found that creative people like musicians, poets and writers are at a heightened risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Researchers said that people, who are at an elevated risk of suffering from bipolar disorder, frequently report stronger experiences of inspiration than those at a lower risk.

"Understanding more about inspiration is important because it is a key aspect of creativity which is highly associated with mental health problems, in particular bipolar disorder," researcher Steven Jones of Lancaster University said in a press release. "People with bipolar disorder highly value creativity as a positive aspect of their condition."

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