A University of Michigan psychiatrist has developed a smartphone app known as PRIORI which can analyze the speaker’s voice and predict an approaching change in psychological state from manic to depressive, or vice versa. PRIORI turns the smartphone into a diagnostic tool, potentially saving the lives of millions of bipolar sufferers.
Dr. Melvin McInnis worked with a team of computer scientists from the engineering department at his university to design the app which analyzes speech characteristics which are common to someone in a manic state, such as rapid, punctuated speech, inability to focus and form a cohesive sentence, or from the depressive side—low energy level in the voice, sluggish speech or irritability. He was inspired by family members of bipolar sufferers who reported that they could usually detect an imminent episode by the sound of their loved one’s voice.
PRIORI, which runs on Android OS is easy to download and set up. It runs in the background, recording and transmitting, with the highest level of encryption, to University of Michigan scientists where the conversation is analyzed. Significant effort is put into ensuring that the app conforms with privacy laws. It records only the patient’s side of the conversation, scientists analyzing the speech receive an encrypted recording, so they do not hear the conversation itself, but only the tone of voice and other speech patterns.
Still in test mode, thus far the app is showing a 65% success rate in predicting an impending change in mental state. The passive nature of the app is key to its success, because it does not require any direct action on the part of the patient, which would be impacted by a manic or depressive state of mind.
For the 30 million people suffering from bipolar disorder throughout the world, PRIORI could be one of the most exciting and effective tools to ensure that help is on the way exactly when needed. Bipolar disorder causes extreme swings between a high (or manic) state of euphoria to the deepest lows of depression that oftentimes leads to suicide. The disorder is treated with drugs that work to regulate the swings, but many times they do not work or patients forget to take the medicine or, during a manic state, choose not to. The idea behind PRIORI is to catch the identifying signs and intervene before the situation becomes serious. More studies are underway, but developers hope that PRIORI will soon be available to the general bipolar community.