Google Glass Helps Parkinson's Patients

Experts at Newcastle University in the UK are investigating Google Glass, the next generation of wearable computing, as an assistive aid to help people with Parkinson's retain their independence for longer.

The device has been likened to the kind of technology fictionalized in the Hollywood Blockbuster “Minority Report”. At first glance, Google Glass appears to be no more than a pair of designer glasses. But the system works like a hands-free smartphone, displaying information on the lens. The technology is voice-operated and linked to the Internet.

The five pairs of Glass at Newcastle University were donated by Google to allow researchers to test how they could be used to support people with long-term conditions. Initial studies by the team, based in the University's Digital Interaction Group in Culture Lab that is part of the School of Computing Science, have focused on the acceptability of Glass. They have been working with a group of Parkinson's volunteers between the ages of 46 and 70.

Now they are working on the next stage of the project, using the technology to provide discreet prompts linked to key behaviors typical of Parkinson's, such as reminding the individual to speak up or to swallow to prevent drooling. Glass can also be used as a personal reminder for medication adherance and appointments.

The team will also be exploring how the motion sensors in Glass can be used to support people with 'freezing', a behavior caused by motor blocking that is a common symptom of Parkinson's.

The team presenting the initial findings in late April 2014 at the ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2014 conference in Toronto, Canada

The release quotes study leader Dr. John Vines as saying, "Glass opens up a new space for exploring the design and development of wearable systems. Glass is such new technology we are still learning how it might be used but the beauty of this research project is we are designing the apps and systems for Glass in collaboration with the users so the resulting applications should exactly meet their needs. What was really encouraging from this early study was how well our volunteers took to the wearable technology and the fact that they could see the potential in it."

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological condition affecting up to 10 million people worldwide, with onset generally in those over 50. The condition manifests itself in motor symptoms including rigidity, tremor and 'bradykinesia' or slowness of movement.

These affect balance, gait, and arm and facial movements. Motor blocks commonly affect people's legs during walking causing them to “freeze”. Speech and voice are typically affected in terms of volume and clarity and the automatic swallowing mechanism is blocked so individuals often drool.