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How New Technology Will Help Parkinson’s Patients

Editor’s Note: Our mobile devices are becoming our everyday health assistants. From apps to wearables, we rely more and more on mobile as an aid to improve and track our well-being. As a technology company, we at Verizon have a responsibility to make sure our customers are empowered with the mobile tech they need, when they need it. In this series, we’ll take an in-depth look at both the current and future states of how mobile innovations can help you more effectively monitor your health, change habits that should be changed, and even diagnose and treat disease. 
Follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #MobileHealth, and share your own insights, tips and how you use your wireless device to stay healthy.

Two clever, potentially revolutionary devices have been developed to help people living with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s, which produces a whole host of challenging symptoms, most notably movement-related disabilities, affects as many as one million Americans, which is more than the number of people living with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and ALS combined. These two inventions have the potential to improve the daily lives of Parkinson’s patients.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative central nervous disorder, which means that as time progresses, the disease and its symptoms get more severe. This is because Parkinson’s kills brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is critical to movement and motor skills. This is why people with the disease experience motor-impairment symptoms. These include tremors, muscular rigidity, difficulty walking and impaired balance.

The first device, a “smart spoon” developed by Lift Labs and released last fall by Google, is designed to counteract the effects of tremors. The Liftware system addresses an area of daily life that most people might not consider when thinking about living with Parkinson’s: eating. It is often extremely hard for someone with a moderate tremor to use a utensil without spilling food everywhere. The smart spoon changes that.

Inside the spoon’s handle is a circuit board powered by a small rechargeable battery. The chip has advanced stabilizing technology that senses the movement of the user’s hand and counteracts it in a fraction of a second. The result, according to Lift Labs, is a more than 70 percent reduction of the effects of tremors. The spoon is detachable from the base so that other utensil attachments can be used.

The second device is a wearable one. The Personal KinetiGraph is designed to be worn on the wrist, and is about the size of a large watch. The goal of the KinetiGraph is not so much to alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms, but to track their progress. That way, physicians will have unprecedentedly accurate data on the movement of a patient with Parkinson’s. If needed, they will be able to change the course of treatment based on the information tracked by the KinetiGraph device.

Many movement-related disabilities can be detected by the KinetiGraph, which contains several complex components in an impressively small case. It also vibrates to remind patients to take their medications. In a public statement, Andrew Maxwell, the managing director and CEO of Global Kinetics Corporation, the company responsible for the KinetiGraph, said, “Monitoring changes in a patient’s movement symptoms is a critical element in the treatment of Parkinson’s and many other movement disorders, but it can be difficult for both patients and healthcare providers to identify and assess changes in movement symptoms effectively.” The device “provides clinicians with a clear and accurate assessment of the patient experience outside of office visits and examinations.”

Because it’s difficult to test movement-related symptoms in labs, doctors are often forced to rely on self-reporting from patients. “In many cases when we discuss changes in movement symptoms with Parkinson’s patients, they are unable to recall specific information that can help doctors understand whether their disease is progressing and, if so, how rapidly,” said Dr. Malcolm Horne, co-founder of Global Kinetics Corporation and one of the people involved in developing the KinetiGraph, in the same statement. “This technology brings clinicians a whole new level of accurate information to support more effective and timely treatment decisions.”

Both of these new devices will hopefully help improve the lives of many of the 10 million people in the world who fight the daily battle of Parkinson’s disease. Because there is no known cure for Parkinson’s yet, treatment must focus on palliative care, the aim of which is to provide relief from symptoms and stress. In these relatively early stages of development, tools like the smart spoon and the personal KinetiGraph show immense promise and reveal exciting possibilities.

More stories in this #MobileHealth series:

· Sensor Headband Promises to Reduce Stress and Increase Focus

· Digital Healing: How New Technologies Are Changing the Lives of Patients with Auto-Immune Diseases

· Inside Innovation: HealthID’s Medical ID Bands Give Families Peace of Mind