Apple study: App usage indicates cognitive decline

By observing app usage behavior, smartphones may find mental degeneration among seniors, according to a study by Apple researchers.

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Apple study: App usage indicates cognitive decline
Apple study: App usage indicates cognitive decline

Apple has conducted a study on the iPhone use of seniors. Older users use fewer apps, take longer to complete tasks and send fewer messages than younger users, and researchers working for the iPhone maker summarize their findings.

These differences in user behavior can be attributed to a “surprisingly large part” of cognitive decline, it continues in the paper – mentally retarded seniors would use their iPhones similar to younger users.

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Especially in terms of the number of apps used and the length of use, the study revealed differences: Seniors with cognitive deficits use fewer apps and spend more time each time to get things done, the researchers say. The paper “App Usage Predicts Cognitive Ability in Older Adults” was published in early May at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

By contrast, mentally retarded people on average use more apps and at the same time spend less time completing actions. Only in terms of the time of day, the usage would be generally different: While the elderly of the study use their iPhone mainly during the day, take in younger users of smartphone use, especially in the evening and night hours.

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The results suggest that smartphones could become a tool for early detection of mental degradation based on the analysis of app usage, the researchers conclude. The iPhone could in this case suggest, for example, to see a doctor – or inform family members. It would also be possible to automatically adjust the user interface of apps and system as soon as the smartphone detects mental deficits.

Frequency and direction of app switches, as percent of total switches, for the top twelve apps in our dataset. Messages is the most frequently switched into app, making up 31% of switches. We see clear connections between some apps, such as Camera to Photos and Messenger to Facebook.
Frequency and direction of app switches, as percent of total switches, for the top twelve apps in our dataset. Messages
is the most frequently switched into app, making up 31% of switches. We see clear connections between some apps, such as Camera to Photos and Messenger to Facebook.

For the study, the scientists evaluated log files that detailed the use of modified iPhones by 84 seniors aged between 61 and 76 years over a period of three months. All study participants are healthy and have previously been iPhone users. The data was collected last summer.

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Although the data set from the usage behavior of 84 senior citizens is larger than in many other studies on app usage behavior, an even larger data set would have enabled a more comprehensive view, the researchers said. A further limitation of the study lies in the fact that one did not collect the comparison data of younger users, but resorted to previous studies.

Source: The ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) Paper

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