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June 15, 2005

Wiring Could Predict Depression/Mania

Wiring patients could potentially predict everything from anxiety levels to bipolar episodes. "In a groundbreaking experiment at Massachusetts General Hospital, a handful of patients battling depression have agreed in recent weeks to be wired up for 24-hour-a-day, mobile monitoring of their palm sweat, heart rate, voice dynamics, movements, and location. The study aims to show that such measures can reliably reflect a patient's state of mind as treatment progresses, researchers say" (Goldberg, 2005).

This could greatly help in-patients at psychiatric hospitals that are undergoing treatment. They are currently trying to develop a way for this technology to be easy to wear for patients. Ideally the wiring would be able to show if patients were manic, depressed, or anxious. The system would also be able to tell if patients were about to have some kind of episode. For example, if you had bipolar disorder and you were feeling perfectly normal, the system may alert you that you are about to have a manic episode before you even begin to feel it. Someone who is unsure of whether they are feeling depression or anxiety would be told by the system. It could also help for those patients that have a hard time describing what they are feeling or who cannot. If you had a patient who was catatonic schizophrenic, they may be unable to tell you what they are feeling, but the automated system would be able to inform you.

One woman volunteered for the study when she was staying in the hospital where this research was being done, after a period of electro-shock therapy that was used to treat her depression. Before using the wiring it had been assumed that she was depressed and that this was her reason for not leaving her house. But the wiring helped discover that she was actually suffering from an anxiety disorder.

As wonderful as this new technology is it can not detect everything that one feels. "For all their computerized sophistication, systems such as LiveNet and LifeShirt are not mind readers. They cannot, for example, say definitively that a patient is feeling anger or happiness, said Lisa Feldman Barrett, a Boston College professor who researches emotion. Rather, they measure things such as levels of arousal and whether a person is experiencing broadly positive or negative emotion at a given point, she said. But even that crude level of detection can prove useful in research and in therapy, she noted" (Goldberg, 2005).

This amazing new technology will need to be studied further before it becomes a tool for psychiatrists and doctors to use for patients. It will also need to be made into an easy to wear format.

The Source of this article was The Boston Globe.

For more information on Bipolar Disorder research trials go to: http://www.moodswing.org/trials/


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