Scientists use smartwatches for ‘world’s fastest growing brain disease’

The digital devices are helping researchers better understand Parkinson’s disease

Smartwatches might be the next big thing in Parkinson’s disease reSmartwatchessearch. According to a recent study in njp Parkinson’s Disease, researchers discovered these devices can help scientists better understand neurological disorders.

“Digital measures hold the promise to provide objective, sensitive, real-world measures of disease progression in Parkinson’s disease,” University of Rochester Medical Center associate professor Dr. Jamie Adams told the University of Rochester. “This study shows that data generated by smartwatches and smartphones can remotely monitor and detect changes in multiple domains of the disease. These digital assessments could help evaluate the efficacy of future therapies.”

Described as the “world’s fastest growing brain disease” by the school, Parkinson’s affects nearly 1 million people in the United States. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, that total is expected to grow by more than 20% in the next six years. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, and nearly 90,000 new U.S. patients are diagnosed each year.

The disease lead to 1,168 deaths in Georgia two years ago, according to the latest data available from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than nearly every other state, outnumbered only by New York, Texas and Florida.

To better understand the disease, researchers in the recent study initiated WATCH-PD — a 12-month deployment of data-collecting smartwatches. Over the year, participants with early stage Parkinson’s disease wore the devices as they carried on with their daily lives.

From decreases in arm swing motion to increases in tremors, the smartwatches were able to detect changes in the participants over the time period. The study has since been extended an additional 18 months, following support from the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

“On behalf of Critical Path Institute, we are delighted to see the astounding progress of this unique project,” Diane Stephenson, Ph.D., executive director of Critical Path for Parkinson’s consortium and co-author of the study, said in a news release.

“The early and often feedback from regulators have shaped this study in ways that now can link the clinical meaningfulness of symptoms measured by digital health technologies to the voice of people with lived experience. By partnering with patients, regulators, industry, and academic experts this project is serving as a precedent for other disease areas to follow.”