Smartwatches could help identify symptoms of Parkinson’s disease seven years before they appear, a study has found.
Researchers analysed data from more than 103,000 people who wore a medical-grade wearable for seven days, measuring their speed of movement continuously.
Slow movement is a hallmark symptom of the condition, along with shaking and stiffness.
Dr Kathryn Peall, of Cardiff University’s Mental Health Innovation Institute, said her team investigated whether movement speed data from a smartwatch could therefore act as a potential early warning sign of developing the disease.
The study, which ran from 2013 to 2016, compared data from people who already had the condition with those who were diagnosed up to seven years after the smartwatch data was collected.
Researchers could distinguish between those who went on to develop Parkinson’s and those who were healthy.
Not only that, but they also showed AI could then be used to identify people in the general population who would develop the condition later in life – and predict the timing.
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‘Significant leap forward’
Study leader Dr Cynthia Sandor, of the UK Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University, said the findings could improve both research and clinical practice, “allowing patients to access treatments at an earlier stage”.
Most current patients have already lost most of the affected brain cells by the time of diagnosis.
“While much more work will need to be done before this is put into clinical practice, our discovery marks a significant leap forward in the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and suggests that devices such as activity trackers and smartwatches could play a key role in clinical monitoring,” Dr Sandor added.
The charity Parkinson’s UK estimates around 145,000 people live with the condition, with 18,000 new diagnoses each year.
The smartwatch study was funded by the UK Dementia Institute, the Welsh government, and Cardiff University.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Medicine.