Wearable technology revolutionizes symptom monitoring and treatment for bipolar disorder

2019

Challenge

Bipolar disorder, which causes people to cycle between intensely energetic manic periods and depressive moods and behaviors, can significantly disrupt people’s education, work, and relationships. Moreover, people who have bipolar disorder are at very high risk for suicide. Research suggests that disruptions in sleep rhythms and physical movement impact the condition’s symptoms and may be targets for treatment. Consequently, tracking these factors in daily life may help improve treatment for bipolar disorder.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., equipped adults with and without a history of bipolar disorder or major depression with mobile monitors that tracked their sleep and movement. The participants also reported their energy levels and mood throughout the day. The IRP team found that increases in movement were related to decreases in depressed mood and that sleep duration was linked to physical activity. The association between physical activity and mood was much stronger among people with bipolar disorder compared to those with major depression or no mood disorder.

Impact

By demonstrating that regular sleep and physical activity tend to stabilize mood, this study showed that interventions designed to influence activity and energy levels may be more effective for treating bipolar disorder than current approaches aimed at directly alleviating depressed mood. The study also showed that active and passive tracking of factors involved in regulating people’s biological systems are important for determining effective targets for treatment.

Publications

Merikangas KR, J, Hickie IB, Cui L, Shou H, Merikangas AK, Zhang J, Lamers F, Crainiceanu C, Volkow ND, Zipunnikov V. (2019) Real-time mobile monitoring of the dynamic associations among motor activity, energy, mood, and sleep in adults with bipolar disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. Feb;76(2):190-198. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.