Monitoring Parkinson's at a distance

17 November 2010

New research published in the Royal Society journal Interface suggests that the progress of Parkinson’s disease could be monitored over the phone just as effectively as in person. The discovery could potentially save health services huge amounts of cash, as well as meaning that Parkinson’s patients would no longer have to undertake time consuming and inconvenient trips to the hospital.

While there is currently no known cure for the debilitating neurological disorder, Parkinson’s disease can be alleviated using drugs, provided that the disorder is diagnosed early and monitored carefully.  Currently, monitoring is undertaken in person by clinicians, who ask patients to perform a lengthly series of tests.  Moreover, when tests are compared with other clinicians’ assessments, a significant degree of variability is often found between the two.

In the home-based test, patients are asked to hold a vowel sound steady for as long as possible, while being recorded by a special telemonitoring device, which then sends results to clinicians via an internet connection.  Previous research has shown that healthy subjects can usually make a steady vowel sound, whereas people suffering from some sort of vocal impairment struggle to do so.  The researchers used complex mathematical techniques to analyse the results of this and other vocal tests, discovering that despite natural variability in peoples’ voices, there are certain underlying patterns which change recognisably as Parkinson’s disease progresses.

The scientists found that the new technique is able to replicate clinicians diagnoses even more accurately than other clinicians, suggesting that telemonitoring could make the lives of thousands of Parkinson’s disease sufferers considerably easier in future.  One of the paper’s authors, Dr Max Little of Oxford University, said “We believe this technology could help to alleviate the burden on health systems, such as the NHS, and make it feasible to run large-scale clinical trials for the investigation of novel Parkinson’s disease treatments.”