How wearable tech is helping people with Parkinson's

Researchers from two universities are leading an international study investigating how wearable technology can help those living with Parkinson's disease.

The team at Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, along with the University of Lisbon in Portugal, have developed the Cue Band – a wearable wristband device that delivers a vibration ‘cue’, prompting the patient to swallow without the need for medical intervention.

The part of the brain which prompts the automatic swallowing response can be impacted by Parkinson’s disease, meaning patients can experience a pooling of saliva which can result in drooling or even choking.

John Taylor, from Whitley Bay, in North Tyneside, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2021, has been taking part in the trial.

He said: "It's really embarrassing, I fall asleep on the settee and I drool and it runs down my clothes. It's dreadful.

"You've got Parkinson's, you've got it, there is nothing you can do about that but it gives it a purpose if you're contributing to research. This may not impact massively on my lifestyle but it will impact on future generations."

Figures show across the North East, there are around 6,305 people living with Parkinson's disease. It is estimated almost 800 people aged over 45 are diagnosed with the condition in the region every year.

The research has been led by Associate Professor Dr Kyle Montague and Senior Research Assistant Luís Carvalho of Northumbria University’s department of computer and information sciences, and funded by the charity Parkinson’s UK.

Until now the common treatment for drooling, the medical term for which is sialorrhoea, has been to provide an injection to stop saliva production, but this can have an impact on oral health, causing discomfort and a dry mouth.

Dr Montague added: “Cue Band is all about improving the quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s disease but without the need for further medication, which can often have unpleasant side effects.

“The device is worn on the wrist like a smart-watch and connected to a smartphone app; allowing it to be pre-programmed to vibrate at scheduled times to prompt the patient to swallow.

“The prompting intervals and frequency of the cues can be easily adjusted and the smartphone app allows patients to also record their symptoms so they can monitor any changes in their symptoms.”

Working alongside Dr Montague on the project is Professor Richard Walker, of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Speaking about the trial he said: “Drooling is a major problem for people with Parkinson’s and can be very embarrassing, potentially restricting their social life.

“This discreet technology could make a major difference and we are keen the people with Parkinson’s themselves will help us drive the research forward.”

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