Google Glass Put to Work to Help Parkinson's Patients

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2014-04-10 Print this article Print

Two Parkinson's patients who are participating in the latest study shared their personal experiences with Glass in statements to the university.

Ken Booth, 56, of County Durham in England, was first diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991. He underwent a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation last year in a bid to relieve some of the side effects of the condition, according to the university. The surgery helped him control the symptoms of the disease after medications lost their effectiveness.

Soon after, he began trying Glass, and their helpfulness cannot be overstated, he told the university. "They're just fantastic. The potential for someone with Parkinson's is endless. 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."

That becomes less worrisome when wearing Glass, he said. "Because Glass is connected to the Internet you can link it to computers and mobile phones. So if you're alone, you just have to look through the Glass and [caregivers], friends or relatives will be able to see exactly where you are and come and get you. Or you just tell it to call someone and it rings them."

His girlfriend, Lynn Tearse, 46, also has Parkinson's and is also a fan of using Glass in the Newcastle University experiments. Tearse, a retired teacher, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2008.

"People would probably say you can do all these things on a smartphone but actually, with Parkinson's, negotiating a touch screen is really difficult," Tearse said. "It's not just the tremor. During a 'down time' when the medication is starting to wear off and you're waiting for the next lot to kick in, it can be like trying to do everything wearing a pair of boxing gloves. Your movements are very slow and your body won't do what you want it to."

That's where Glass can be helpful to help unlock the brain when it "freezes," she said. "No one really understands why it happens, but it happens when the flat surface in front of you breaks up or the space in front of you narrows such as a doorway. Revolving doors are particularly bad. Your legs gradually freeze up and the difficulty is getting started again. The brain seems to need a point beyond the blockage to fix on and people use different things—Ken will kick the end of his walking stick out in front of him but many people use laser pens to create a virtual line beyond the barrier. This is where Glass could really make a difference."

Glass units are also being used to give medication reminders to patients. "The drugs don't cure Parkinson's, they control it so it's really important to take the medication on time," said Booth. "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."


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