MAY 06, 2022 4:00 PM PDT

Smartphone App Screens for Neurological Conditions Using Pupil Scans

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Neurological conditions can be devastating. Conditions like Alzheimer’s (which is becoming increasingly common as the general population starts to get older) can significantly affect cognition, memory, and a person’s quality of life.

When it comes to managing a neurological condition, early detection can be key. If caught early, treatments may be able to slow the progression of a neurological condition or minimize its effects on a person. 

Smartphone apps could create opportunities for people to screen for and detect many of these neurological conditions at home, simply by taking close up scans of their pupils. The app is described in a paper presented at the ACM Computer Human Interaction Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which ended May 5.

There is a growing body of research showing that changes in pupil size can tell a lot about a person’s cognitive function, making it a key way to detect abnormalities indicative of a neurological condition. For example, some research highlights that pupil size may have a correlation to intelligence. Usually, larger pupil size signals higher intelligence. 

Using an infrared camera (which is commonly used by smartphones for facial recognition features) and a smartphone's normal camera to track changes in size to someone’s pupil. The infrared helps distinguish between the pupil and iris, allowing the app to work for a range of eye colors. 

In a clinical setting, a pupil response test is often the go-to procedure for gauging pupil size. While this test can be an effective tool for detecting potential neurological conditions, the test also requires expensive equipment, making it relatively inaccessible to patients. A pupillometer is one type of specialized tool needed to perform the test. 

When pupil response tests conducted using a pupillometer were compared to pupil measurements taken with the smartphone app, results showed that the smartphone app could deliver favorable results similar to a pupillometer. 

While there is much work to be done on the app, it holds promise as a potentially powerful diagnostic and screening tool. 

Sources: EurekaAlert!; ACM Computer Human Interaction Conference; Scientific American

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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