This at-home radio sensor could help monitor symptoms of patients with Parkinson’s
A home monitoring system may be able to help with some of the difficulties associated with caring for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It can be difficult to get specialized care at hospitals for those suffering from the neurological condition. Researchers could monitor the progress of patients’ symptoms and track changes in medication without them having to leave their homes. The results were described in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder. It affects the whole body, but it is most well-known for its impact on mobility. It often starts as muscle stiffness, which can then develop into weakness, tremors, and other obstacles to movement. Around a million Americans live with the disease, while only 60 percent of Parkinson’s patients on Medicare see a neurologist or other specialist. James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, said, “We’re asking for a lot of the patient community.” He was not involved in the study.
The standard diagnosis of a disease is subjective and time-consuming. Yingcheng Liu is a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in machine perception and healthcare and the study’s principal author. Liu states, “We can’t ask patients to come into the clinic every day or every other week.” “This technology gives us the possibility to continuously monitor patients, and provide more objective assessments.”
The new study’s approach involves installing a picture-frame-sized sensor on the wall of 50 people’s homes: 34 with Parkinson’s and 16 without. The sensor emits radio waves similar to an ultra-weak WiFi signal that acts as a human-detecting radar. Researchers used the radar to measure patient’s walking speed. They could calculate an average over several hours or days.
” There are many sensors” currently in development to track Parkinson’s disease, Beck said. This approach is completely passive. It’s really exciting .”
to be able almost in real-time to track how a person moves.
The researchers compared at home mobility to common clinical measures of Parkinson’s disease. After adjusting for age and other factors that could affect gait, the researchers found that a patient’s walking speed as detected by the sensor was closely correlated to an in-depth assessment of the disease: The motor examination section, which includes rating a patient’s hand movements, speech, walking, and speech. This test is not as accurate as the quick evaluations doctors use, such as timing someone standing from a chair.
The at-home monitor helps to avoid what’s called the “white coat effect.” A quick in-clinic test may reflect someone’s best effort but not their endurance. It’s a bit like determining a car’s maximum speed but not its mileage.
At-home gait measurements were also used to detect mobility declines before clinical measurements could be made. During the yearlong study, everyone’s walking speed decreased. However, Parkinson’s patients’ mobility declined twice as fast, which was not evident on the comprehensive exam.
Gait may not be the only way to measure this daily function. Previous work with the device has shown it can capture the entire silhouette of a person. Liu says they are curious to see if it captures stride length, hand movement or other motor functions.
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The at-home monitor could help improve the treatment of the disease, researchers claim. Parkinson’s disease is incurable but its symptoms can be controlled with a drug called levodopa.
” “Basically, when the patient is on this medication, their movement, and their cognitive function get better,” Liu said. However, the effects wear off at different rates for different people. Side effects can include involuntary movements. Liu said that the drug can be compared to coffee. Too much and you will get a headache. Too little and you will get a migraine. Too much and you will feel anxious and jittery. Doctors and patients need to determine the best dose and timing. Liu says that the traditional way to do this is to write in a journal every 30 minutes for two weeks. He said he tried journaling in this way to see how the patient’s evaluation looked. “It’s really burdensome.”
A doctor might be able see the effects medication adjustments have on patients’ daily gait. Liu states that the study showed that the patient’s walking speed and the diary were correlated. Although the study was observational, the researchers did not adjust patients’ medication in any way. However, two patients did alter their medication schedules during the course. These changes were reflected in the patients’ walking speed over the course of the study. They had fewer low-mobility dips. “The doctor could actually examine this fluctuation curve .”
and adjust the dosage little.
Beck states that clinical studies such as this are still in their proving stage.” He says it could take years before it becomes widely used, but “I believe this has got a headstart .”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.