May 13, 2014

Google Glass: High-Tech Support for People with Parkinson’s

Researchers at Newcastle University in England have found that people with Parkinson’s (PWPs) can benefit significantly by using Google “Glass,” the high-tech wearable technology that sounds like something out of “The Twilight Zone.”

Users wear the device just like eyeglasses and see information displayed right on the lenses they’re wearing. The technology is linked to the internet – like any smartphone – but it’s voice-controlled. That hands-free feature is especially useful for PWPs, whose symptoms sometimes make using a standard smartphone keyboard difficult.

Google Glass users can read text messages or emails, search the internet, take photos and shoot video without having to reach for a mobile phone. The technology combines voice recognition software, a camera, Wi-Fi, bluetooth and a very small screen looks like a 46-inch monitor to the wearer.

Google donated five pairs of Glass to the British team at Newcastle University's Digital Interaction Group in Culture Lab, part of the School of Computing Science. The scientists recruited a group of PWPs between 46 and 70 years of age to determine first if the volunteers would accept the space-age technology.

Lead researcher Dr. John Vines said:
Glass opens up a new space for exploring the design and development of wearable systems. It is very early days -- 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.
The Power of Prompts
Once the team determined that their volunteers could comfortably adapt to the new technology, they wanted to explore how Glass could offer discreet “prompts” to help wearers deal with symptoms that frequently distress PWPs. 

Those prompts might be audible cues – heard only by the wearer – to swallow (in order to prevent drooling), or to help PWPs overcome "freezing of gait" (FOG), another troubling PD symptom. 

With FOG, PWPs find that their forward motion becomes blocked, when signals from brain to leg muscles are disrupted. When Glass technology determines that forward movement has ceased, it can then issue discreet verbal commands that help “unlock” the gait problem.

Team member Roisin McNaney -- a speech and language therapist whose PhD work has explored the use of external cues as behavioral prompts -- explained the importance of inconspicuous technological support:
People with Parkinson's are already coping with so much and one of the main causes of social isolation is the stigma around behaviours such as drooling and tremor which they have no control over. The last thing we want is a system of cueing which is so obvious it adds to people's overall embarrassment. 
“Time to Take Your Pill”
Glass can do more than offer motion prompts. Linked to the user’s computer, it can remind the wearer that she needs to take her medicine. 

That strict schedule of medication is particularly important for PWPs, since “down” times – when the last pill is wearing off and the next pill hasn’t yet kicked in – present the greatest dangers, like falling. That timely pill-popping requirement is a key reason why PWPs are at particular risk during hospital stays.

Volunteer Ken Booth explained why this feature really helped him:
I was taking two or three different drugs every two hours, different combinations at different times of the day; some with water, some with food, the instructions are endless. Having a reminder that is literally in your face wherever you are and whatever you are doing would really help.
He added: "For me the biggest benefit was confidence. When you freeze your legs stop working but your body carries on moving forward and it's easy to fall."

More Benefits
In addition, Glass can alert the wearer about other important information, like upcoming appointments. Because it’s linked to the internet, family members and caregivers can always know the location of the wearer, a feature that may have application for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. If he needs help, the wearer can prompt the device to call someone for help.

Claire Bale, Research Communications Manager at Parkinson's UK, said:
To really make the most of the potential of new technologies it's essential that researchers work in partnership with the real experts in the condition -- people living with Parkinson's. Only people with the condition can tell us if these new approaches will genuinely improve their lives in meaningful and realistic ways.

Here's a video done by the Newcastle researchers that does a good job of summarizing their work:

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1 comment:

stephen said...

Here are the Google glass apps for people who suffering form Parkinson ... these apps even helpful for Doctors and consumer ...