Current State of Digital Biomarker Technologies for Real-Life, Home-Based Monitoring of Cognitive Function for Mild Cognitive Impairment to Mild Alzheimer Disease and Implications for Clinical Care: Systematic Review

J Med Internet Res. 2019 Aug 30;21(8):e12785. doi: 10.2196/12785.


Background: Among areas that have challenged the progress of dementia care has been the assessment of change in symptoms over time. Digital biomarkers are defined as objective, quantifiable, physiological, and behavioral data that are collected and measured by means of digital devices, such as embedded environmental sensors or wearables. Digital biomarkers provide an alternative assessment approach, as they allow objective, ecologically valid, and long-term follow-up with continuous assessment. Despite the promise of a multitude of sensors and devices that can be applied, there are no agreed-upon standards for digital biomarkers, nor are there comprehensive evidence-based results for which digital biomarkers may be demonstrated to be most effective.

Objective: In this review, we seek to answer the following questions: (1) What is the evidence for real-life, home-based use of technologies for early detection and follow-up of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia? And (2) What transformation might clinicians expect in their everyday practices?

Methods: A systematic search was conducted in PubMed, Cochrane, and Scopus databases for papers published from inception to July 2018. We searched for studies examining the implementation of digital biomarker technologies for mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer disease follow-up and detection in nonclinic, home-based settings. All studies that included the following were examined: community-dwelling older adults (aged 65 years or older); cognitively healthy participants or those presenting with cognitive decline, from subjective cognitive complaints to early Alzheimer disease; a focus on home-based evaluation for noninterventional follow-up; and remote diagnosis of cognitive deterioration.

Results: An initial sample of 4811 English-language papers were retrieved. After screening and review, 26 studies were eligible for inclusion in the review. These studies ranged from 12 to 279 participants and lasted between 3 days to 3.6 years. Most common reasons for exclusion were as follows: inappropriate setting (eg, hospital setting), intervention (eg, drugs and rehabilitation), or population (eg, psychiatry and Parkinson disease). We summarized these studies into four groups, accounting for overlap and based on the proposed technological solutions, to extract relevant data: (1) data from dedicated embedded or passive sensors, (2) data from dedicated wearable sensors, (3) data from dedicated or purposive technological solutions (eg, games or surveys), and (4) data derived from use of nondedicated technological solutions (eg, computer mouse movements).

Conclusions: Few publications dealt with home-based, real-life evaluations. Most technologies were far removed from everyday life experiences and were not mature enough for use under nonoptimal or uncontrolled conditions. Evidence available from embedded passive sensors represents the most relatively mature research area, suggesting that some of these solutions could be proposed to larger populations in the coming decade. The clinical and research communities would benefit from increasing attention to these technologies going forward.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; cognition disorders; dementia; digital biomarkers; digital health; digital phenotyping; older adults; technology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Automobile Driving
  • Biomarkers
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Disease Progression
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Technology*
  • Telemedicine
  • Wearable Electronic Devices


  • Biomarkers