Sunday, June 16, 2024

Now you could know when you would die!

Motion sensors may potentially be used to help gauge the risk of their owners’ mortality, if a new study published this week in PLOS Digital Health is to be believed.

In their study, a team of researchers used the data from 100,000 participants of the UK Biobank who wore activity monitors with motion sensors for 1 week, regarding this group as “demographically representative of the UK population”.

The team attempted to simulate smartphone monitoring and come up with a model that would help estimate mortality risk based on a person’s acceleration and distance travelled during a six-minute period.

Study author Bruce Schatz from the University of Illinois, cited by The Daily Beast, explained that the researchers chose that particular duration to mimic the so-called Six Minute Walking Test that, as its name implies, measures the distance a person can walk over six minutes on hard flat surface.

Not only that test is “a very good external measure of what’s going on internally,” Schatz said, it can also be replicated via the use of a wrist sensor or a cheap phone.

“I know for a fact that these kinds of models will work with cheap phones,” he remarked.

Predictions of future death made by the researchers’ model were correct 72 percent of the time after one year, and 73 percent after five years—a similar rate of accuracy found in a study published last year that analyzed the same data set but used hours, rather than minutes, of data. This new study, argued Schatz, is a more promising demonstration of passive monitoring technology like phone and wrist sensors as his team’s model requires less data and affords a great degree of privacy to the user.

“If you record all of the data, it’s true that people have characteristic walks and you can tell who the individual is. But it’s totally possible to take part of the signal, which is good enough to do the vitals but completely disguises who the person is,” he said.

Even so, using everyday technology to passively monitor patients could raise issues if users cannot give continuous informed consent, situations which could be complicated by degenerative illnesses or a lack of technological literacy. These ethical issues, said Schatz, are still speculative, but deserve coordinated thought from scientists as the research moves forward.

While the sensors used in the study were near-identical to the ones in both simple cell phones and smartphones, future work should validate this model in a large sample when users carry phones in their pockets, rather than wear sensors on their wrists. Downloading an app that can measure your health as you go about your day-to-day could be a convenient and painless way to keep people healthier, longer.

“If you want to raise the general health of the entire population, this kind of project is really important,” Schatz said.

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