Nav: Home

McLean researchers uncover security issues with health apps for dementia patients

August 21, 2017

Belmont, MA - Use caution when entering personal health information into a convenient app on your mobile device, because not all apps are created equal when it comes to protecting your privacy, warns McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School clinicians.

In a recent paper, a team of McLean Hospital researchers reported that many health apps designed to assist dementia patients and their caregivers have inadequate security policies or lack security policies altogether. The paper, "Data Security and Privacy in Apps for Dementia: An Analysis of Existing Privacy Policies," was published in the August issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The paper's senior author, Ipsit Vahia, MD, medical director of Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Services at McLean, said the research "represents a note of caution to researchers, clinicians, as well as patients and their families" who may be turning to health apps for assistance in managing conditions like dementia. Vahia, who co-authored the study with Lisa C. Rosenfeld, MD, a resident in the MGH/McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Training Program, and John B. Torous, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, believes the research "also points to a role for professional organizations and advocacy groups in helping educate mobile health consumers on how to best make decisions about using this technology."

For the paper, Vahia and his colleagues analyzed privacy polices of iPhone apps matching the search terms "medical + dementia" or "health & fitness + dementia." Focusing on apps that collect user-generated content, the researchers evaluated privacy policies based on criteria for how user-provided data were handled.

Of the 125 apps Vahia and his team reviewed, 72 collected user-generated content, but only 33 had privacy policies available. Through a review of policies detailing individual-level protections, the researchers found "a preponderance of missing information, the majority acknowledged collecting individual data for internal purposes, and most named instances in which user data would be shared with outside parties."

Based on the findings, Vahia said, "no one using an app for a mental health-related reason should assume that privacy and security measures are in place." He called on patients and caregivers to "pay attention to the type of information that they provide to the app, and try to understand what can be done with that information." This is particularly important for those with conditions such as dementia, he said, "where the persons using the app may be suffering from the disease and not fully understand privacy policies, even when they exist."

Vahia believes that health apps have tremendous potential for helping individuals with mental health concerns and their caregivers, but "in order for technology to realize its full potential in mental health, users need to feel confident about the security and privacy of the information that is collected." He said that "clinicians should educate themselves and their patients about issues related to the data collected" before recommending an app. Not doing so, he explained, "could be akin to prescribing a medication without being aware of or disclosing risks and side effects."
-end-
McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean, visit mcleanhospital.org or follow the hospital on Facebook or Twitter.

McLean Hospital

Related Dementia Articles:

Digital solutions for dementia care
Telehealth delivery of dementia care in the home can be as effective as face-to-face home visit services if carers and recipients take advantage of the technologies available, Australian researchers say.
Despite a marked reduction in the prevalence of dementia, the number of people with dementia is set to double by 2050 according to new Alzheimer Europe report
Today, at a European Parliament lunch debate, Alzheimer Europe launched a new report presenting the findings of its collaborative analysis of recent prevalence studies and setting out updated prevalence rates for dementia in Europe.
Inflammatory marker linked to dementia
Higher levels of an inflammatory marker, sCD14, were associated with brain atrophy, cognitive decline and dementia in two large heart studies.
How likely do you think you are to develop dementia?
A poll suggests almost half of adults ages 50 to 64 believe they're likely to develop dementia.
Latest issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia
Predicting heart disease might also be a warning sign for Alzheimer's; A new way to think about the environment and Alzheimer's research; Most dementia patients don't receive care from physicians who specialize in brain health.
What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia
A strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of developing dementia, says a new University of Waterloo study.
Brain changes may help track dementia, even before diagnosis
Even before a dementia diagnosis, people with mild cognitive impairment may have different changes in the brain depending on what type of dementia they have, according to a study published in the September 11, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Could marriage stave off dementia?
Dementia and marital status could be linked, according to a new Michigan State University study that found married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.
Migraine diagnoses positively associated with all-cause dementia
Several studies have recently focused on the association between migraine headaches and other headaches and dementia and found a positive migraine-dementia relationship.
Apathy: The forgotten symptom of dementia
Apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia, with a bigger impact on function than memory loss -- yet it is under-researched and often forgotten in care.
More Dementia News and Dementia Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.