Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a new approach that uses sensors on a smartphone to generate a score that reliably reflects symptom severity in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease, a progressive brain disorder, is often tough to treat effectively because symptoms, such as tremors and walking difficulties, can vary dramatically over a period of days, or even hours.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Neurology, the researchers reported that the severity of symptoms among Parkinson’s patients aligned closely with those generated by their smartphone app.
“A smartphone-derived severity score for Parkinson’s disease is feasible and provides an objective measure of motor symptoms inside and outside the clinic that could be valuable for clinical care and therapeutic development,” said researchers, including Srihari Mohan, an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Typically, patients with Parkinson’s disease are evaluated by medical specialists during three or four clinic visits annually, with subjective assessments capturing only a brief snapshot of a patient’s fluctuating symptoms.
In their homes, patients may also be asked to fill out a cumbersome 24-hour “motor diary” in which they keep a written record of their mobility, involuntary twisting movements and other Parkinson’s symptoms.
The doctor then uses this self-reported or imprecise data to guide treatment.
Using existing smartphone components such as its microphone, touch screen and accelerometer, the researchers devised five simple tasks involving voice sensing, finger tapping, gait measurement, balance and reaction time.
They turned this into a smartphone app called ‘HopkinsPD.’
Next, using a machine learning technique that the team devised, they were able to convert the data collected with these tests and turn that into an objective Parkinson’s disease severity score – a score that better reflected the overall severity of patients’ symptoms and how well they were responding to medication.
This smartphone evaluation should be particularly useful because it does not rely on the subjective observations of a medical staff member.
Moreover, it can be administered any time or day in a clinic or within the patient’s home, where the patient is less likely to be as nervous as in a medical setting.