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IS Professor's Research Impacts Future of Wearables for Mental Health

It seems as if there are wearables to track most everything in one’s life: how you exercise, what you eat, and monitoring even everyday tasks. What if there was a wearable that would help you better understand your mental state and not only track analytics but actually provide intervention?

Dr. Tanzeem Choudhury, Associate Professor of Information Science at Cornell University, is developing wearable and mobile systems that can turn clinically relevant social behavior, physical activity, and sleep patterns into clinically actionable measurements and just-in-time, patient-tailored interventions.  “It has been traditionally very difficult to measure lifestyle and context of patients other than individual self-report. Self-reporting is particularly challenging during symptomatic periods of the illness. My group is exploring creative ways to capture behaviors and effective ways to influence behavior in everyday life using mobile technology,” said Choudhury.

Choudhury became interested in this research when she lost a brilliant friend who took his own life during an episode of clinical depression. “I have also seen others very close to me struggle with depression and noticed how clearly their behavior provides valuable clues that could be used for doctors to reach preemptively,” she said. “Mobile technology has the potential to turn a fuzzy picture of the patient’s life and symptoms into a clear, high-resolution video packaged with all the analysis tools.”

In order to help mental health patients, Choudhury has developed MoodRhythms software which uses a smartphone to track mental health through behavioral sensing: how the person is speaking, their physical activity, social interaction, and sleeping patterns. These tracked activities then feed into an algorithm that makes individualized interventions.

Choudhury and her team have already signed on one health organization and as she moves forward with her health-tech startup, Choudhury hopes to continue to improve health outcomes for the 60% of American adults who have untreated mental health disorders as well as support technology that reduces healthcare costs.

Dr. Choudhury’s work has been featured in the Economist, NY Times, and Fast Company, among others. She was named in MIT Technology Review’s list of 35 most innovative technologists under the age of 35.