An APP to assist with the differential diagnosis of patients with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor

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The Multimedia Applications Laboratory (LAM UPC) has developed a mobile application that helps in the differential diagnosis between patients with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, using smartphone sensors.

Essential tremor is a type of movement disorder that is frequently erroneously diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. While Parkinson’s disease has a neurodegenerative nature and affects movement at rest, essential tremor is not degenerative and presents rhythmic tremor in movement that is generally accentuated in fixed positions. The treatment with dopamine that is administered to Parkinson’s patients is extremely aggressive and harmful if it is given to patients who do not suffer from this disease (for example, patients with Essential Tremor). In addition to this major drug contraindication, the test to determine whether a patient has Parkinson’s disease, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT), is extremely costly. SPECT is an examination that requires the administration of a radiopharmaceutical (a source of gamma radiation) to the patient to identify the distribution in brain regions and determine the amount of neurodegeneration.

The new application is based on a biomechanical test in two positions (relaxation and tension) that registers hand tremors with the accelerometer/gyroscope incorporated into a smartwatch or mobile phone. The linear acceleration and/or angular velocity of the movements is processed to provide biometric characteristics of the patients in the frequency domain. Then, algorithms are used based on neural networks. The resulting values are compared with those obtained in diagnosed cases to determine whether the patient has Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor, with a reliability of 80%. This percentage is obtained based on the results from a database of 90 people. Currently, the database is being expanded to improve the reliability of the tool for differential diagnosis. The diagnosis provided by the application will provide doctors with additional information on complex patients or patients in early phases in which the right treatment is vital to improve quality of life.

This new technology is accessible for developing countries that lack more sophisticated diagnostic devices.

The project is being developed in collaboration with the doctors Josep Valls and Eduard Tolosa, from the neurology unit of Hospital CLINIC, the Universidad Autónoma de Occidente de Colombia, Universidad de Chile and the Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule of Germany. The project will be end in 2022.

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