Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common and debilitating neurodegenerative disorders in the country, affecting approximately 1 in 500 individuals.  It is characterised by slow movements, tremor and rigidity.

As a revolutionary application, the Parkinson's disease smartphone app could help thousands of people with its early diagnosis, providing insight into the possible onset of the disease in each patient and assist with treatment. // Credit: IntelFreePress (Flickr)
As a revolutionary application, the Parkinson’s disease smartphone app could help thousands of people with its early diagnosis, providing insight into the possible onset of the disease in each patient and assist with treatment. // Credit: IntelFreePress (Flickr)

Parkinson’s affects people at different ages and of all physical abilities, even if they do “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”, as the great Mohammed Ali did for a large portion of his life until Parkinson’s initially took away his speed and eventually left him with little control over his body. Despite extensive research there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, however a key feature in the management of any degenerative disease is early diagnosis, which can help minimise the overall impact of the condition in the long term.

At the recent British Summer Science festival, Dr Max Little put forward his experimental smartphone application (app), which aids the early diagnosis and monitoring of Parkinson’s patients. The app detects subtle changes in an individual’s voice, alerting their Doctor of any changes and allowing them to either begin or adjust their treatment regime accordingly.  The app is still in its preliminary phase and current research is being carried out at Oxford University, where a total of 2500 people are being tested.

At present, the diagnosis can only be made through a thorough clinical assessment, which involves a full neurological examination by a neurologist that is both expensive and time consuming. The application will ensure a timely diagnosis through a simple phone call to a test centre, where an individual’s voice is compared to a database of voices. The overall impact of the app could significantly affect the quality and extend an individual’s life, as it will provide an opportunity to lead it actively and fulfilling, given the early diagnosis. Despite the many benefits, the technology risks excluding a proportion of society with Parkinson’s disease from receiving the most up-to-date care, as a result of not possessing an adequate smartphone; however, given the rate of advancement in the provision of technology in healthcare, this may only be a small obstacle in the long run.

By Mohammed Ansaar Malik