Wearables could monitor Parkinson’s patients in real time

The Michael J Fox Foundation has teamed up with Intel to test using wearable technology to keep track of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Earlier in the year, the charity ran a small trial monitoring the symptoms of 16 people with the disease using Intel’s Basis smartwatch. This collected a gigabyte of data per patient every day, which was uploaded to a centralised computer system via smartphone.

Researchers are still collating those results, but in the meantime plan to release an app where people can record symptoms and medication uptake, so that doctors can both look for common threads and learn how personalising the times and doses of medication might help patients.

Ultimately, as the BBC reports, the collaboration is working towards real-time tracking of factors like sleep schedules and (using phone accelerometers), the duration and intensity of tremors. This would allow scientists to follow patients’ symptoms 24 hours a day, giving the best possible insight into how the disease affects someone, save for actually following them around all day.

Still, even if they’re not literally being watched, this constant tracking might feel invasive to some people. But Intel says all data will be anonymous and safely encrypted. The information gathered by the study could also be shared with other researchers in order to help develop better treatment, or even a cure.

At present, no one knows what causes Parkinson’s, which is a degenerative nervous system disorder causing uncontrollable movements; including tremors, difficulty balancing, stiffness, slowed movement, and problems speaking and swallowing. Around five million people are affected, 127,000 of them in the UK.

Michael J Fox set up his foundation to fund research into Parkinson’s disease in 2000 after being diagnosed in 1991. One of its advisors, Andy Grove, used to be CEO at Intel and has Parkinson’s himself. So far they have allocated $450 million (£270m) to research projects aimed at eradicating the disease.

Diane Shipley

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