An app could help doctors diagnose Parkinson’s

Researchers from Aston University have developed smartphone software to make it easier for doctors to diagnose and assess patients with Parkinson’s.

The neurological disease affects millions of people worldwide, around 127,000 of them in the UK. But it can be difficult to gauge from one 10-minute-max appointment how someone’s symptoms are progressing or even to be certain that the diagnosis is correct. But our smartphones might be more objective and sensitive than even the most caring doctor.

As The Herald reports, lead researcher Dr Max Little presented his research at the British Science Festival this week. His team has had help from scientists from Oxford University in setting up a study of 2500 people. Some of them have Parkinson’s, others are healthy, and still others have symptoms or genes which put them at risk of developing the condition.

The participants are being asked to use the Parkinson’s app for one week, with periodic check-ins. It tests for the disease in different ways: by assessing users’ manual dexterity on the phone, monitoring any difficulties walking using the phone’s accelerometer, and having them say ‘ahh’ into the mic, as previous research has shown that Parkinson’s affects the voice in barely perceptible ways.

It’s being tested on people of all ages, to try to discover whether there are subtle predictors of the disease decades before it’s diagnosed, which is usually when people are over 50. This might mean that future treatments could be employed more quickly, before the brain has been significantly damaged. Dr Little said, ‘The signs are promising. We’ve been able to show that this technique is extremely accurate; the question is how accurate. Can it pick up symptoms that are subtle and occur before obvious tremors?’

Time will tell, but in the meantime, the app could keep both Parkinson’s patients and their doctors informed about the progression of their disease, although the researchers acknowledge that there are ethical issues with sharing medical data in this way, and that people might want to choose how much data they share and with whom. (And, presumably, be assured that the system’s security is more up to scratch than many apps…)

Image via Pixabay.

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Diane Shipley