GPS mobility as a digital biomarker of negative symptoms in schizophrenia: a case control study

NPJ Digit Med. 2019 Nov 8:2:108. doi: 10.1038/s41746-019-0182-1. eCollection 2019.


Mobility is an important correlate of physical, cognitive, and mental health in chronic illness, and can be measured passively with mobile phone global positional satellite (GPS) sensors. To date, GPS data have been reported in a few studies of schizophrenia, yet it is unclear whether these data correlate with concurrent momentary reports of location, vary by people with schizophrenia and healthy comparison subjects, or associate with symptom clusters in schizophrenia. A total of 142 participants with schizophrenia (n = 86) or healthy comparison subjects (n = 56) completed 7 days of ecological momentary assessment (EMA) reports of location and behavior, and simultaneous GPS locations were tracked every five minutes. We found that GPS-derived indicators of average distance travelled overall and distance from home, as well as percent of GPS samples at home were highly correlated with EMA reports of location at the day- and week-averaged level. GPS-based mobility indicators were lower in schizophrenia with medium to large effect sizes. Less GPS mobility was related to greater negative symptom severity, particularly diminished motivation, whereas greater GPS mobility was weakly associated with more community functioning. Neurocognition, depression, and positive symptoms were not associated with mobility indicators. Therefore, passive GPS sensing could provide a low-burden proxy measure of important outcomes in schizophrenia, including negative symptoms and possibly of functioning. As such, passive GPS sensing could be used for monitoring and timely interventions for negative symptoms in young persons at high risk for schizophrenia.

Keywords: Health care; Medical research.