Smartphone app to detect Parkinson’s

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Smartphones will soon become ‘pocket doctors’ to spot Parkinson’s disease.

The device will be equipped with technology which is required to record movement and speech, both of which are deteriorated by the condition. This information will be assessed and can be used in the early, accurate diagnosis of the condition. The early treatment may improve the patient’s quality of life.

The device will also offer medical professionals information regarding symptoms for a specific period of time, which will allow them to adjust drug dosages, if necessary.

The system requires to be studied more, however researchers in Britain have already shown that they are able to separate Parkinson’s patients from health patients with almost 100% accuracy. They are currently negotiating the use of the technology on the NHS.

Around 127000 people in Briton suffer from the disease, however since diagnosis is based on symptoms, it is often confirmed quite late.

Once diagnosis has been obtained, the fluctuations in the severity of some of the symptoms make drug adjustment difficult. The symptoms of the disease include stiffness, tremors and a slowing down of the body. As more brain cells die, balance and speech are affected and some sufferers of the disease may become wheelchair-bound.

There is no cure for the disease, but early treatment could improve the quality of life.

A mathematician from Aston University, Dr Max Little, has shown that it is possible to make use of voice recording to spot Parkinson’s, and has achieved about 99% accuracy with this method. A tremor to the voice and soft, breathy speech are indications.

The research team has made use of the accelerometer in the phone to log movement. This is a built-in motion sensor that ensures the information on the display face the correct way. This is a very important aspect as Parkinson’s patients often freeze whilst walking.

Dr Little has stated that they have been able to indicate that if a person places the smartphone in their pockets and walks 20 paces forward and back, a high accuracy level of about 98% is achieved in detecting the disease.

He hopes that if he is able to study enough people, the disease can be detected during its early stages. He said that presently they are unable to diagnose the disease until it is too late and if an advantage of five years could be gained, it would be fantastic.

The possibilities range from using a programme that only doctors can make use of to an app that the public can use, but the ethics would have to be considered.

It is hoped that the technology in smartphones may be used to help detect other conditions, such as anxiety, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Image Credit: Susumu Komatsu

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