New Parkinson’s Diagnostic Tool All in the Arms

The way people swing their arms can vary quite a bit. George Carlin may have had the best insight, noting that the amount of swing in one’s arms is directly attributable to their age. From the cool strutting and flamboyant arm grooving to the moderately normal adult, the process then ends with the elderly keep their arms stiff at their sides and say, “screw it!”

Of course, Carlin used different vocabulary, but I’m trying to keep this blog PG-13.

Then there’s good old Seinfeld, who had the episode with the woman who didn’t swing her arms at all. Or, as Elaine puts it, as if she’s “carrying invisible suitcases.” And of course, much hilarity ensues.

However, having a funny swing to your gait isn’t a laughing matter according to a new study from Penn State University. In fact, inconsistencies with the timing and amount of arm swing between a person’s left and right sides is an excellent early indicator of Parkinson’s disease.

Stephen Piazza, an associate professor of kinesiology, and a team of researchers developed an accelerometer that can be attached to the wrists of both arms of a patient. After about 10 minutes of walking around, the data is transmitted to a computer that can take the information and determine if there are inconsistencies.

The study doesn’t really suggest it’s possible to pick up on the inconsistencies by just hanging around someone and noticing a difference. Instead, it outlines a new diagnostic technique that is an important, inexpensive test that doctors can now administer to their patients. The only other inexpensive test currently available is a smelling test, as Parkinson’s patients lose their sense of smell. However, other diseases can cause this as well. Hopefully with both tests together, doctors can diagnose Parkinson’s early enough to allow treatments to have a greater effect.

Of course, there is always an expensive brain scan that can be administered, but if the disease can be ruled out using cheaper methods, that’s a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

The software the team developed will be free to interested doctors online. The scientists plan to further investigate whether the arm swing evaluation in combination with a smell test can enhance early diagnosis even more. They also plan to further develop their technique so that the accelerometers give immediate readings, which, they said, would save the extra step of downloading the data to a computer and analyzing it, thereby making the arm swing assessments of Parkinson’s disease even easier.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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