Smart watches can detect Parkinson’s disease

Smartwatches can detect Parkinson’s disease several years before the first symptoms appear by analyzing the user’s movements, a trial conducted in the United Kingdom shows.

Researchers at Cardiff University in Wales used artificial intelligence to analyze data from around 105,000 smartwatch users. By measuring the speed of their movements for one week, between 2013 and 2016, they were able to predict which users would eventually develop Parkinson’s disease. They were also able to distinguish between Parkinson’s disease and other diseases that may affect the user’s movements. The study authors acknowledge, however, that further trials will be necessary to validate their findings.

Parkinson’s disease begins to settle in a patient’s brain several years before the first symptoms appear, and it’s already very advanced when we finally notice that something is amiss. So there could be an advantage in catching it as early as possible to try to limit the damage … but not necessarily today, warns Professor Louis-Eric Trudeau, a specialist at the University of Montreal. “Currently, there is no treatment that prevents neurons from dying,” he recalls. “So even if we tell a patient that they have a good chance of developing Parkinson’s disease within seven years, that won’t open the door to treatments that can correct that.”

He therefore questions the importance of announcing to the patient what awaits him in a few years, while admitting to him that nothing can be done about it for the time being. He adds that the information can be very interesting for insurers, but perhaps a little less for the patient. Mr. Trudeau compares the situation to sites that provide a complete analysis of our genetic profile to create a report that tells us about our risk of developing such a disease or health problem. Whether or not it should be is up to the patient, he said. There are people who don’t want to know. And among those who want to know, there will be those who are ill-equipped to handle the response and will need support.

He believes that the use of smartwatches as a screening tool for Parkinson’s disease will be more important in the context of research. “As part of a clinical study, we can have a profiling of our participants with this kind of approach and we can actually plan to better monitor the progression of the disease,” he explained. “And in the control subjects, who are usually not affected by the disease, there may be some (who develop it). This is all really important information for clinical research. The results of this study have been published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine.

Image credit: pixabay.

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