Assistive Technology Can Benefit People With Parkinson’s

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by Jo Gambosi |

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Assistive technology (AT) can help people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) complete activities of daily living, such as cooking, eating, dressing, writing, and walking. The Assistive Technology Industry Association defines AT as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”

Thanks to advancements in technology, various devices and software can help those with PD or other mobility issues. My sister, Bev, who has stage 3 PD, uses a rollator or cane at times, and some computer-assisted devices. Parkinson’s News Today columnist Samantha Felder recently wrote about apps that can benefit people with PD.

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Despite the availability of apps and devices, using these technologies may be difficult for those with cognitive issues, or for older individuals who aren’t familiar with smartphones or computers.

At 83, Bev has an iPhone given to her by her son, but she has difficulty using it because of the small, fine finger movements needed and her thought-processing issues.

She uses a stylus to type on the phone’s keypad, which is slow and tedious. Although I suggested she use the voice-typing feature and showed her how, she sticks with her stylus. I can’t get her to use voice dictation! She also has difficulty using other features, such as sending photos via text, so I have written down steps she can refer to.

Various devices and technologies can make it easier for people with PD to operate computers. Bev uses several of these.

Keyguards and keyboards

Keyguards are usually metal or plastic and have holes cut out to fit over each key on the keyboard. I bought Bev a keyboard that has larger keys, backlighting, and a keyguard. It helps her make fewer typing errors, and she can rest her hands directly on the keyboard if she is tired.

RollerMouse

The RollerMouse is unique in that it sits at the bottom of the keyboard and can be accessed with any finger and either hand. According to the nonprofit organization North Dakota Assistive, “For people with Parkinson’s, this mouse can improve stability and decrease unnecessary movements because all required movement for the keyboard/mouse is central to the body versus 6-12 inches away.” They can be costly, with prices upward of $100, but if interested, try checking with Medicare or your health insurance provider about coverage.

Built-in accessibility features

There are typically free accessibility features built into a computer’s operating system (both Windows and Mac) that can help a person with PD increase their speed and accuracy.

I have adjusted these settings on Bev’s desktop computer, which has a Windows operating system.
I turned down the mouse speed setting, which helps Bev use her standard mouse, as she does not have a RollerMouse. I also turned on FilterKeys so the computer will ignore repeated or brief keystrokes, as Bev often hits keys more than once accidentally.

In a 2017 article published in Practical Neurology, authors point out that for people with PD and other chronic illnesses, intelligent personal assistant (IPA) software can benefit people with PD or fine motor challenges by performing digital tasks for them. Examples of IPA software include Apple’s Siri, Google Home, Google Now, and Samsung’s S Voice.

Bev uses Siri at times, but cognitive issues make it difficult for her to remember which button to press to access it, or she will press the home button too hard with her stylus. Again, I have written down for her how to do this after demonstrating and asking her to repeat it back to me.

Other adaptive software is also available. For example, SteadyMouse can help smooth the standard mouse cursor motion and reduce the effects of unsteady hands or tremor.

As caregivers, we need to be aware of assistive technology that can make life easier for both us and our loved one with PD. Try searching the internet for “assistive technology” or some of the items mentioned in this column.

When Bev had a regular computer keyboard, she said, “I wish I could just have an old typewriter with bigger keys that I can see.” Although she still has challenges, the larger keyboard, keyguard, and adjustments to her computer settings have enabled her to type more efficiently and with less frustration.

Now, if she would only use voice dictation for text messaging instead of typing with her stylus!

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

Comments

Paul Zukowski avatar

Paul Zukowski

So there's an assistive technology association now. Very cool.

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