By Chloe Elmer
Social media posts typically include photos from recent vacations or thoughts on current events, but researchers at the Penn Center for Digital Health and the Penn Memory Center are watching social media posts with consent from patients to see if trends can show early signs of Alzheimer’s or other cognitive decline.
A team led by Dr. Raina Merchant has been conducting research in the digital realm as it relates to conditions such as depression, obesity, and hypertension since 2013. The team is looking for patterns with the ways in which patients post to websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that could give them clues as to a patient’s overall health which can result in more effective and accurate preventative care.
Merchant and her team are working with Penn Memory Center Co-Director Dr. Jason Karlawish to expand their research into the realm of Alzheimer’s and abnormal brain function.
“If there’s one organ that is uniquely tied to technology, and where the use of technology is affected early, it’s the brain,” Karlawish told Penn Medicine Magazine.
Karlawish will work with the team to study changes in language on social posts that may signal Alzheimer’s or other decline in brain function, as well as caregivers posts to be mindful of the depression and anxiety that can arise with those caring for the affected.