Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a way to detect whether someone has Parkinson’s disease a lot earlier before they show any symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease affects the brain and gradually prevents your ability to control your body’s own movements. The 3 main symptoms are involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body, slowed movement, and stiff muscles. It occurs when a neurotransmitter called dopamine is no longer produced, so the brain can no longer communicate with the body.

Currently, there is no cure only treatments to help patients control the effect Parkinson’s has on their body. Unfortunately when signs of Parkinson’s appear, irreversible damage has already been done, so a method to detect the disease earlier is needed.

Chief investigator Professor Dinesh Kumar said many treatment options for Parkinson’s were effective only when the disease was diagnosed early.

“Pushing back the point at which treatment can start is critical because we know that by the time someone starts to experience tremors or rigidity, it may already be too late,” Kumar said.

“We’ve long known that Parkinson’s disease affects the writing and sketching abilities of patients, but efforts to translate that insight into a reliable assessment method have failed – until now.”

The team designed a software that is able to detect whether or not someone will develop symptoms of Parkinson’s just by analysing how they draw a spiral.

“The customised software we’ve developed records how a person draws a spiral and analyses the data in real time. The only equipment you need to run the test is a pen, paper, and a large drawing tablet.

Better screening is high in demand with an estimated 10 million people living with the disease. The study involved 62 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease on a scale of no symptoms to highly affected. They tried many different letters or alternative shapes but found drawing a spiral was the most reliable way.

Professor Kumar added, “With this tool, we can tell whether someone has Parkinson’s disease and calculate the severity of their condition, with a 93 per cent accuracy rate.”

“While we still have more research to do, we’re hopeful that in future doctors or nurses could use our technology to regularly screen their patients for Parkinson’s, as well as help those living with the disease to better manage their condition.”

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