New drawing test could help detect Parkinson’s disease

Doctors often administer rigorous tests before making a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. But a group of researchers may have found an easier way to do it with the help of a simple task: drawing. 

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Scientists from RMIT University in Australia conducted an experiment, which was recently published in Frontiers of Neurology, to determine how new software, which measures writing speed and pen pressure, can help detect the illness. 

To do so, they assessed the test results of 55 people who used the machine to draw spirals. Half of the participants had Parkinson’s, and the other half did not. 

After analyzing the data, they found that the writing speed and pressure was lower among those with the illness, compared to those who didn’t have it. 

“We’ve long known that Parkinson’s disease affects the writing and sketching abilities of patients, but efforts to translate that insight into a reliable assessment method have failed – until now,” chief investigator Dinesh Kumar said in a statement. “The customised software we’ve developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper and a large drawing tablet.”

Researchers also revealed that they were also able to calculate the severity of the disease with a 93 percent accuracy rate. Despite their results, they noted their trial had limitations as they did not factor in different demographics and people who weren’t on medication. That’s why they plan to do more studies. 

“While we still have more research to do,” Kumar said, “we’re hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson’s, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition.”

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