This Device Tracks Parkinson’s by Watching You Walk Around at Home

·3 min read
Fotostorm Studio via Getty
Fotostorm Studio via Getty

For the more than 10 million people living with Parkinson’s, tracking the progression of the disease is vital to letting doctors know whether patients are responding well to medicine, whether symptoms are becoming more severe, and how the disease is impacting everyday life.

The problem for many patients, though, is that they can’t always get to a hospital or doctor’s office easily—whether it be because they live too far away or their illness prevents them from traveling easily. That’s why a team of MIT researchers engineered a small device roughly the size of a Wi-Fi router that can wirelessly monitor patients in their home.

In a previous study, the device demonstrated the ability to detect Parkinson’s disease by simply “listening” to people sleeping—thanks to an AI that researchers trained to analyze the breathing patterns of a person as they snooze.

This Bot Detects Parkinson’s by Listening to You Breathe

In a new study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the same team discovered that the device is also able to monitor a patient’s movement and walking speed wirelessly as they move about their room. This information can then be sent to doctors and neurologists to help them better understand the severity and progression of the disease.

“By being able to have a device in the home that can monitor a patient and tell the doctor remotely about the progression of the disease, and the patient’s medication response so they can attend to the patient even if the patient can’t come to the clinic—now they have real, reliable information—that actually goes a long way toward improving equity and access,” Dina Katabi, an MIT computer science researcher and a senior author of the study, said in a press release.

The device works by sending radio signals throughout a room the patient is in that then bounce back to it allowing it to “see” its environment. It’s not unlike the same way bats use echolocation to pick up on their surroundings. The device’s AI is able to identify the patient and monitor them as they go about their day in their room.

This May Be the Key to Diagnosing Early-Stage Parkinson’s

In two studies with 50 participants, the device was able to analyze more than 200,000 gait speed measurements. This wealth of data allows doctors to track the progression and severity of Parkinson’s better than they would the occasional in-person visit.

“Monitoring the patient continuously as they move around the room enabled us to get really good measurements of their gait speed,” Guo Zhang, a wireless network researcher at MIT and co-lead author of the study, said in a press release. “And with so much data, we were able to perform aggregation that allowed us to see very small differences.”

A device like this can go a long way in helping treat—and potentially slow down—the progression and severity of Parkinson’s disease. While it’s not a cure, it can really benefit the lives of the many millions living with the neurodegenerative illness, giving them a better quality of care and life—all from the comfort of their bedroom.

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