Symptoms of Parkinson's disease vary from person to person. Tracking Parkinson’s disease symptoms with mobile apps can document their progression.
As many as one million people in the U.S. live with Parkinson's disease, and about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with this movement disorder each year, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Although it’s chronic and progressive, Parkinson's disease affects people differently. For some, it progresses quickly while, for others, Parkinson’s may impact only one side of the body or symptoms may worsen very slowly.
Tremors are often the primary symptom of Parkinson’s disease. So it’s understandable patients can be concerned when tremors seem to be increasing — and they may also want to know if their symptoms are calming down due to medication or if a lifestyle change is helping. Now, thanks to smartphones and other “smart” devices, apps can help patients answer these questions by tracking Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
For example, Parkinson’s patients can easily record their medications and keep a log of symptoms with the Parkinson’s Diary app, designed for iPhone and iPad. And an app (dubbed the cloudUPDRS system) developed by Birbeck, University of London, researchers is designed to measure — in four minutes or less — whether Parkinson’s disease symptoms are increasing or decreasing.
In addition to tremors (trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face), slow movement and impaired balance are symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, too, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. As Parkinson’s progresses, the tremors — which affect the majority of people with the disease — can be especially worrisome and interfere with the ability to perform daily activities like dressing and eating.
Patients with the disease usually see their doctor or nurse a few times a year to have their symptoms assessed. But tracking Parkinson’s disease progression this way can be complicated, especially in the later stages of Parkinson’s, because tremors and how fast or slow a person can move may vary day-to-day and hour-to-hour. That means a doctor may not get a complete picture of how an individual’s disease is progressing.
The goal of the cloudUPDRS system app is to allow the patient to track his or her Parkinson’s disease by recording specific measurements of symptoms.
Here’s how the app works: The patient’s smartphone records the details of movement as a patient performs a series of simple actions, using arms and legs individually. For instance, tapping the screen assesses bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and placing the phone on a knee assesses tremors.
The app then uploads the measurements to the cloudUPDRS analytics server, which uses high-tech analytics to calculate a score in the Universal Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. The results are then shared with the patient’s doctor. This do-it-yourself Parkinson’s disease symptom tracking, over time, can show trends in an individual’s disease progression and help their doctor plan the best individualized treatment strategies, according to the cloudUPDRS app researchers.
“More regular assessments of disease progression mean that patients receive more consistent and reliable care, and detailed and automated patient analytics permit the early identification of problems such as medication side-effects,” said George Roussos, PhD, the research lead in computing technology for the app development. “By collecting and analyzing data ahead of appointments, clinicians and patients can focus clinic time on treatment strategies, rather than clinical assessment.”
In addition, the app allows patients to be directly involved in their own care because they can help document how nutrition and physical therapy may help with symptoms, Roussos added.
The cloudUPDRS app is still undergoing testing in the UK, where it is already certified as a medical device. Other apps and a variety of wearable devices are also being developed to help both researchers and patients in tracking Parkinson’s disease symptoms and how they change over time.
March 16, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN