Researchers See if Google Glass Can Help Parkinson's Patients

Patients hope it can help monitor symptoms and allow them to be mobile.

ByABC News
April 11, 2014, 5:34 PM

April 11, 2014— -- As rumors swirl about Google Glass finally being available to the public, the device is already being examined for use as a daily aid for people with Parkinson’s disease.

In Newcastle University in Newcastle, England, researchers are examining if Google Glass can help Parkinson’s patients monitor their symptoms and be more mobile.

In one small study, researchers held workshops with patients with Parkinson’s disease and then let them use Google glass at home.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition that results in a loss of motor control including rigidty, tremors and ‘bradykinesia’ or slowness of movement. The disease affects up to 10 million people, usually those over 50. Medication can help stop symptoms, but users have to be careful about timing their doses so they don’t risk side effects that can lead to exacerbated tremors.

Lynn Tearse, 50, participated in the study along with her partner Ken Booth. Tearse, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2008, said she was eager to try out the voice-activated device, since tremors in her hand can make it difficult for her to use a phone.

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“It’s like working a mobile phone with boxes gloves on,” said Tearse. “[Google Glass] was something I was genuinely interested in…You can take a photograph and take a video and search the Internet. You can make a call and send a text.”

Additionally Tearse said the arguments people made about how Google Glass could invade privacy, were actually positive arguments for its use as an assistive device.

“It allows people to remain in control of their lives and have confidence to go out on their own,” said Tearse, who hopes to buy the device when they’re available. “If you can sync your Google glass with your computer at home, it can be streamed through to a loved one at home. Keep an eye on and make you feel reassured."

Roisin McNaney, co-author of the study and PhD student in computer science at Newcastle University, said one scary symptom of Parkinson’s is that people can become “frozen” to the ground. McNaney said many users were happy the device was voice-operated so that if they became “stucky” they could call for help without being hindered by tremors.

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“One of the main [worries] was the sense of a lack of confidence when going out and about in public themselves,” said McNancey, “[They had] the view that glass could potentially really support this. We find that quite interesting. “

John Vines, senior research associate in computer science at Newcastle University and co-author of the study, said he thought that the participants, between the ages of 46-70, would likely not love the device but was pleasantly surprised by their reaction.

“I was absolutely mesmerized by the hugely positive reaction, I don’t think I had ever come across that in the last five or ten years,” said Vines. “It’s the issue of confidence and sense of reassurance that someone can leave the home on their own.”

Vines said one main focus on using the device would be to try and use it as a way to monitor symptoms. Small sensors in the computer could measure eye and head movement and alert users if they start to exhibit more symptoms so they can either take more medication or get to a safe place before more of their symptoms return and render them immobile. Vines and the study’s co-authors plan on presenting their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery conference in Toronto at the end of the month.