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Computer Keyboards Can Be Used to Detect Parkinson’s Disease

Researchers at MIT  have discovered a way for people to check themselves for the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by just monitoring how they type, regardless of what they are typing. The study which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, explains how keystroke dynamics can be used to monitor the motor effects of Parkinson’s. The technique used is based on technology originally developed to replace passwords. It enables Parkinson’s signs to be monitored as people carry out everyday task including Facebook status, typing emails.

While conducting the research, scientists asked two sets of people- 42 patients with early-stage of Parkinson’s and 43 healthy individuals to type out a passage of text for 10-15 minutes on a keyboard that is linked to a computer running on a special software that has been designed to time each key’s press and releases. When the typing data was analyzed, it was discovered that there was a notable difference in the timing of every press and release in the 42-patients with early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The data for the health control group was much more uniform.

Parkinson’s disease is usually caused by loss of nerve cell in the brain leading to a reduction in the levels of the chemical dopamine. It is often described as a progressive disorder with signs including motor difficulties, tremors and ultimately severe disability and dementia. Parkinson’s is currently the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the world, with approximately 60,000 people diagnosed in the U.S. annually. If Parkinson’s can be diagnosed earlier, researchers can develop drugs that could potentially stall the progress of the disease, according to Alvaro Sanchez-Ferro, a joint lead author. A primary problem so far is that it has not been easy to provide early detection.

The app used to monitor the typing of the two groups can be installed on a standard computer, added to the hardware of a device or deployed on a web page. According to Luca Giancardo, a lead researcher, they envision that the app could be used to reduce the number of visits to a neurologist or between other tests that can not be carried out continuously.

Featured image credit: myjoyonline

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