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18th September 2014

Detecting Parkinson’s by taking a few steps

You may have a feeling, a thought lurking in the back of your head. The tremor, the loss of smell, the slight change in voice. You may think your parents are developing Parkinson’s.

The next question is finding out for sure. An app developed at Aston University lets you do that right at home.

It’s all about the phones nowadays…

Smartphones could track movement for a while now. Just think of all those fitness apps calculating how many steps you took during the day with an inbuilt accelerometer. They also recognize your speech. You can now speak instead of typing out texts, and record voice messages.

By monitoring just these two, doctors can now detect Parkinson’s. And it’s not just ‘kind of’ and preliminary. It’s with 99% accuracy.

Leader of the project, Dr Max Little has been working on connecting phones and Parkinson’s detection for quite some time now. In his 2012 TED talk he talks about how a phone call could diagnose Parkinson’s. Now he took a step further. Or rather twenty.

It takes 20 steps

The accelerometer in your phone measures your movement, detecting any unusual patterns in how you stand or walk around.

‘We have been able to show that if someone puts the smartphone in their pocket and walks forward 20 paces and back we can get very high accuracy – around 98 per cent or so – in detecting whether someone has Parkinson’s.’ Dr Little, leader of the project told the British Science Festival.

Impressed?

Add a couple more tests and you get 99%. A smartphone can also detect variations in your voice and the way you talk. Slight voice tremors or ‘breathy’ speech are some giveaways for early Parkinson’s.

It could check reaction times by asking you to tap, release, or swipe the touch screen. You could even tap with two fingers, alternately which can give indication on accuracy, reaction time, possible tremor.

By gathering all this data, doctors could then analyze the patterns and tests and find out if a person has Parkinson’s or even monitor the progression of the condition in existing patients.

Saves time (of going to the neurological clinic), money (a test costs around 300 GBP or so), and with these two factors checked, the door to accessibility opens up. And it opens big.

What’s next?

Though the app was only officially announced a few days back during the British Science Fair, trials are already booked for the coming months integrating 11 hospitals in the UK with 900 patients already recruited.

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