Practical Help for PARKINSON’S Patients from Wearable Computer Technology



Practical Help for PARKINSON’S Patients from Wearable Computer Technology

A team of young computer researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. have undertaken a study to help people with PARKINSON’S DISEASE.  They want to use the newest interactive technology to help people with PARKINSON’S maintain their independence and preserve their dignity.  Much to the delight and enthusiasm of the first PARKINSON’S volunteers, the new Google Glass improves not only their physical symptoms but helps their self esteem as well.

The Internet technology firm Google donated five pair of their new Google Glass to these innovative researchers.  The Google Glass is Google’s first application of wearable computer technology.  It is a headset, worn like a pair of regular, albeit designer-like, glasses that can connect to both the Internet and the wearer’s cellular phone.  Google introduced it in 2012.  These clever, technology savvy investigators, headed by Dr. John Vines at Newcastle University saw the potential for wearable computing technology to improve the lives of people with progressive diseases, such as PARKINSON’S DISEASE.  But, of course, developing this potential had to be done in partnership with people who would use it: only they could tell if it really would be helpful.

Voice activation connects the Glass to the Internet so that tremulous or stiffened hands do not have to be used.  Information appears unobtrusively on a small screen in the upper corner of one lens, and does not interfere with normal sight.  Corrective lenses can also be used in the Glass.  Like any mobile device, applications can be programmed into it that will provide the wearer with various types of information or reminders.  It could be programmed to be a useful reminder to the wearer to take their medication on time or prompt them to speak more loudly, to remember to swallow to prevent drooling.  Motion sensors in the Glass may also be able to help them get moving again if they experience freezing episodes.  Best of all, it is discreet, giving cues to the wearer that no one else can see, saving them embarrassment in social situations

The interactive ability of the Glass can allow wearers to alert their caregivers their whereabouts, simply by looking through the lens.  Wearers can also verbally request the device to make a phone call to any number of pre programmed specific persons or numbers, making communication much easier and faster for people whose motor skills are challenged.  Each device can be programmed to the specific individual needs or requirements of the person using it and technology researchers like the ones at Newcastle are helping to develop the programs that will be particularly useful to the PARKINSON’S population.

Two of the volunteers who have been part of the Google Glass trial have had some very enthusiastic comments.  “The difference is incredible.  It hasn’t stopped the episodes completely and I still have to take the medication but it’s helping to control the symptoms so I can live my life.”  And “They are just fantastic.  The potential for someone with PARKINSON’S is endless.”  While praise for help with the motor problems has been high, appreciation is also high for the discreet help that relieves embarrassment and improves confidence in social situations.  Google Glass can help maintain independence and improve the quality of life.

Google Glass is still a prototypical computer technology.  For one, it is very expensive at the present, $1,500 each.  There are still developmental issues, and concerns that wearers could be using the device’s ability to take photos or videos to invade the privacy of unsuspecting people in public situation.  At present, Google is giving users orientation and training sessions on the polite etiquette for use in public.  As with all the newest technological devices, there will be future improvements and it will take some time for the public to become accustomed to the new device.  But how wonderful that this new technology offers the potential to improve the lives of people with PARKINSON’S DISEASE.


“Exploring the acceptability of Google Glass as an everyday assistive device for people with Parkinson’s” Roisin McNaney, John Vines, Daniel ROggen, Madeline Batlaam, Penfei Zhang, Ivan Poliakov and Patrick Olivier. CHI2014. April 26-May 01.


“Everything you need to know about Google Glass” Haley Tsukayama, Washington Post, February 27, 2014



Review by Marcia McCall

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