Researchers have discovered that smartwatches may hold the key to diagnosing Parkinson’s disease up to seven years before symptoms appear. This discovery has the potential to change the way we approach the debilitating condition, providing hope for early intervention and improved patient outcomes.
The power of Artificial Intelligence
The UK Dementia Research Institute team at Cardiff University conducted the study, which used artificial intelligence to analyse data from 103,712 smartwatch wearers. They tapped into data from the UK Biobank. This is a comprehensive health database of over 500,000 people. The use of such large-scale data sets in conjunction with artificial intelligence is opening up new avenues for disease prediction and prevention.
The researchers were able to predict which participants would develop Parkinson’s disease by tracking their speed of movement over a single week between 2013 and 2016. These findings were recently published in the journal Nature.
The study appears to be accurate. It can differentiate Parkinson’s disease from other conditions that may affect movement, such as old age or frailty.
“The results from individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease were distinct,” said project collaborator Dr. Kathryn Peall.
The challenge of Parkinson’s disease diagnosis
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that causes long-term brain damage. Involuntary shaking or tremors, slow movement, and stiff, inflexible muscles are all symptoms. Often, by the time a diagnosis is made, significant, irreversible damage to brain cells has occurred.
The disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the brain. These cells are in charge of producing dopamine. This is a chemical that communicates with the part of the brain that regulates movement and coordination. The amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases as Parkinson’s disease progresses. This ultimately leaves a person unable to control movement normally.
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The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown. But several factors, including a person’s genes and environmental triggers, appear to play a role. While Parkinson’s disease is not fatal in and of itself, complications can be severe. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks Parkinson’s disease complications as the 14th leading cause of death in the US.
Smartwatches and Parkinson’s disease diagnosis
The findings of this study may have far-reaching implications for both research and clinical practise. When such treatments become available in the future, it may improve recruitment into clinical trials and allow patients to access them at an earlier stage.
Approximately 30% of the UK population wear smartwatches. Which means the technology could provide a cost-effective and reliable method of detecting early-stage Parkinson’s disease.
“We have shown here that a single week of data captured can predict events up to seven years in the future,” said study leader Dr. Cynthia Sandor.
The prospect of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease years before symptoms appear may be frightening for some. So the decision will always be an individual and personal one. The hope is that this research will pave the way for new therapies that slow disease progression, giving those with Parkinson’s disease a better future.
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