Emerging Parkinson’s Technologies
The degenerative disease of Parkinson's, which has no known cure, is a terrible disability to live with and a disease which eventually robs its sufferers of their mobility and independence. One in 500 people in the UK have the condition and regularly take drugs to suppress symptoms and, wherever possible, maintain some quality of life. But it's not just about the risk of falling or the difficulty in sitting down, getting up and moving around. It's also about the tremors, which render even the simplest things like eating and writing nigh on impossible.
There have been a range of resources for assisted living available to Parkinson's patients for a long time, but until recently, little to no help with the aspects of daily life that require fine motor skills and a steady hand. But that is changing, as technologies for Parkinson's patients are emerging onto the market.
One welcome device to meet this need comes in the form of Liftware, a stabilising handle to which you can attach a soup spoon, and everyday spoon, or a fork. It uses inbuilt sensors, motors and an onboard computer to detect and counteract hand tremors. For someone with Parkinson's, this means less spilt food, less anxiety at mealtimes and the chance to eat with confidence. Clinical studies show a reduction in shaking of about 70%, with the device proving most effective for those with mild to moderate tremors. Eating at work and even eating out in restaurants becomes a reality. Mealtimes are no longer limited and nor are the foods that you can eat.
Liftware has two pieces - the stabilising handle and the attachments. As soon as one of the utensils is attached, the device turns on. It can easily be powered down by just placing it face down. It comes with a storage pouch so that you can take it with you wherever you go, and the battery charge lasts for several meals, so you don't have to worry about carrying the charger. See the Liftware website for more details.
Writing has been another impossible task for Parkinson's sufferers - until now, with the advent of the ARC pen. It's the creation of a British design team who wanted to focus on technologies for Parkinson's patients that brought some joy into their lives, not just provided aids for general living. The ARC pen was the outcome. One common symptom of Parkinson's is a condition known as Micrographia, with the sufferer's handwriting becoming smaller and more cramped until writing or drawing becomes impossible. Even writing a birthday card or signing your name becomes almost impossible.
The ARC pen uses high-frequency vibration motors which stimulate the muscles of the hand and reduce the amount of effort that it takes to move the pen. Handwriting therefore becomes clearer and larger. It offered an 86% improvement in clarity of handwriting in initial trials. Pens also tend to be slim, which make them painful both to hold and to propel across the paper. To solve this problem, the ARC pen is thicker than an average pen, with a more ergonomic design. Read more here
Another of the emerging technologies for Parkinson's patients has been nicknamed Hope in a Glove. It's the creation of a medical student who refused to accept that nothing could be done for Parkinson's patients. He turned to physics for an answer and found it in the action of gyroscopes. The prototype, known as GyroGlove, showed a 90% reduction in tremors, using a miniature gyroscope to resist hand movement and therefore dampen tremors. It works by pushing back against the wearer's movements as the gyroscope works to remain upright. Read more about the Gyroglove technology here.
Assistive technology is offering genuine hope to Parkinson's sufferers, giving them the chance to maintain a normal, independent life for much longer. Make-up brushes, computer mice, hand tools and brushes are all possible future candidates for technologies for Parkinson's patients.