A new diagnostic tool — which has an accuracy rate of 93% — developed by RMIT University researchers could detect Parkinson’s disease before symptoms emerge, according to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.
“Many treatment options for Parkinson’s were effective only when the disease was diagnosed early,” said co-author Professor Dinesh Kumar, from the School of Engineering at RMIT University.
“Pushing back the point at which treatment can start is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late.”
“We’ve long known that Parkinson’s disease affects the writing and sketching abilities of patients, but efforts to translate that insight into a reliable assessment method have failed — until now.”
He added: “the customised software we’ve developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper and a large drawing tablet.”
“With this tool we can tell whether someone has Parkinson’s disease and calculate the severity of their condition, with a 93% accuracy rate.”
“While we still have more research to do, we’re hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson’s, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition.”
The study involved 62 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — half had no visible symptoms and half ranged from mildly to severely affected.
Professor Kumar and co-authors compared the effectiveness of different dexterity tasks — writing a sentence, writing individual letters, writing a sequence of letters and sketching a guided Archimedean spiral — and determined that the spiral was the most reliable and also the easiest for participants to complete.
“Our study had some limitations so we need to do more work to validate our results, including a longitudinal study on different demographics and a trial of patients who are not taking medication,” said lead author Dr. Poonam Zham, also from the School of Engineering at RMIT University.
“But we’re excited by the potential for this simple-to-use and cost-effective technology to transform the way we diagnose Parkinson’s, and the promise it holds for changing the lives of millions around the world.”
Poonam Zham et al. Distinguishing Different Stages of Parkinson’s Disease Using Composite Index of Speed and Pen-Pressure of Sketching a Spiral. Front. Neurol, published online September 6, 2017; doi: 10.3389/fneur.2017.00435