A new app for the Apple Watch makes it easier for people with epilepsy to track data about their seizures—before, during, and after. The goal is learning to detect an episode as it happens and summon help.
The first generation of the EpiWatch app is designed to store information for researchers on physiological changes, altered responsiveness, and other characteristics of patients’ recurrent seizures. Says Gregory Krauss, professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:
“Physicians often ask patients to record their seizures. But that can be hard, especially when a patient loses consciousness.”
EpiWatch is the first application using Apple Watch to collect patient data through Apple’s open source ResearchKit.
“EpiWatch collects data that help researchers better understand epilepsy, while helping patients keep a more complete history of their seizures,” Krauss says. “The app also provides helpful tracking of seizures, prescription medication use, and drug side effects—activities that are important in helping patients manage their condition.”
More than 2.5 million people in the United States live with epilepsy. Those who download and use the new app will help scientists better understand the affliction and develop new methods for monitoring and managing it.
After a year or two of data collection, Krauss expects, researchers will be able to develop an app that can detect most seizure types and generate an alert to notify caregivers and, if needed, emergency medical help. This potentially lifesaving capability would give people with epilepsy more freedom of movement, Krauss says.
“We foresee the app giving some parents the confidence to allow their children to play on their own,” Krauss says. “For some adults, using it might allow them, for the first time, to live safely alone.”
Have You Had A Seizure Today?
EpiWatch’s modules enable research participants to provide informed consent; complete research surveys and other tasks; and track seizures in real time, with prompts delivered by Apple Watch to test awareness. Users can review their data and compare their symptoms with those of other patients.
The app’s journal function prompts users to provide information daily, answering questions such as:
Have you had a seizure today? If so, what type of seizure was it?
Did you take your medication? If not, why not?
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain in which seizures, caused by abnormal neural activity, disrupt normal brain function.
Seizures can vary in type and severity, sometimes causing convulsions and other abnormal movements, confusion, or loss of consciousness. People with uncontrolled seizures may experience impacts on their independence and quality of life.
“Many patients have a brief lapse of awareness during their seizures that may not be apparent to them or to others around them,” says Nathan E. Crone, associate professor of neurology. “EpiWatch allows patients to find out for themselves if this is a problem so they can get more help.”
After the Warning Aura
EpiWatch is most appropriate for patients who experience an “aura” that signals an oncoming epileptic seizure. When this warning symptom occurs, the user—or a caregiver—can tap an icon on the watch face to activate the app, which starts recording heart rate and movements.
The app also requests patient participation in a specialized memory game to evaluate his or her responsiveness during the seizure. It is the first medical research app to include such a cognitive test.
Krauss and Crone worked with developers at THREAD Research to build the app. It makes use of Apple Watch sensors—such as the accelerometer, which detects movements, and the gyroscope, which determines orientation in space—to measure and record movements and falls during seizures. The app also uses Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor, since heart rate can rise significantly during seizures.
Back-end software was developed by Acuma Health, a division of Smart Monitor, via a secure health informatics platform that protects patient information and provides custom analytics dashboards to researchers.
Apple has also announced an iPhone app from Duke University for an autism study and an app from Oregon Health and Science University to study whether iPhones can be used to screen moles for risk of melanoma.