Wearable Device Could Monitor Multiple Aspects of Parkinson’s Symptoms

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A new wearable device could enable monitoring of motor symptoms as well as electrical activity of the brain, heart, and muscles in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The device was described in the journal Sensors, in the study “A Multi-Sensor Wearable System for the Quantitative Assessment of Parkinson’s Disease.”

To effectively care for people with Parkinson’s, clinicians need to be able to measure the severity of their symptoms. Traditionally, this has been done using assessments such as the Movement Disorders Society Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale.

However, such assessments have limitations: they are not very sensitive to subtle changes, and by design, they rely on the expertise of the person conducting the assessment.

In recent years, wearable sensors to measure Parkinson’s symptoms have been developed, including motion sensors to assess motor symptoms.

Another important aspect of symptom monitoring in Parkinson’s is measuring neurophysiological signals or, simply, electrical activity within different bodily systems. Monitoring electrical activity in the muscles is called electromyography (EMG), monitoring of the heart is electrocardiogram (EKG), and monitoring of the brain is electroencephalogram (EEG).

“It will be of great significance to develop a novel sensor system with the functionality to measure signals related to both movement and neurophysiology in [Parkinson’s],” the researchers wrote.

These researchers developed such a device, which combines five motion sensors — two affixed at each ankle, two at each wrist, and one at the waist — with three electrical sensors (one each for EMG, EKG, and EEG). The system wirelessly transmits measured data to a computer.

“This novel system enables the long-term simultaneous monitoring of motion (e.g., hand motion, gait speed, body sway) and neurophysiological data (e.g., EEG, EKG, EMG) in people with [Parkinson’s],” the researchers wrote.

“Moreover, the compact and wireless design of our sensor provides minimal restriction on testing requirements that allow the patient to perform a test in the area outside of the hospital,” they added.

The researchers ensured that their sensor worked as intended in various proof-of-concept experiments with healthy volunteers, which demonstrated that the sensors produced similar readings to various commercial sensors used for the same purpose.

Then, the team conducted a small proof-of-concept study of the device in seven people with Parkinson’s (four female, three male, age range 51–68 years), all of whom were undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS).

Findings from this small study indicated that, when DBS was on, movements on both sides of the body were more symmetrical — broadly indicating a treatment benefit.

“The test results provided evidence that the proposed system can provide quantitative outcomes for [Parkinson’s] patient symptom analysis,” the researchers wrote.

These findings provide a proof-of-concept for the use of this multi-parameter system in monitoring Parkinson’s symptoms.

“However, the sample size was small, and in the next step, we will incorporate cloud storage, recruit more subjects, and use more experimental paradigms for further reliability and reproducibility testing in large populations,” the researchers concluded.