Skip to main content

Your keyboard could predict if you have early-onset Parkinson’s disease

Keyboards are smart things these days. Some use machine learning to speed up our typing by predicting which letter or word we’ll want next. Others look at our typing habits and try to use this to guess our emotional state. Now, researchers from Australia’s Charles Sturt University have a new idea: Using the subtle clues in a person’s typing to look for early signs of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder, which causes a range of physical and psychological symptoms. More advanced Parkinson’s is noticeable through physical traits, such as involuntary tremors and the distinctive shuffling walk known as Parkinsonian gait. However, it can be tough to spot early on before such symptoms have manifested.

That’s a problem because this period before diagnosis is a crucial time for patients. By the point of diagnosis, 70 percent of the brain’s dopaminergic neurons — the neurons which synthesize the neurotransmitter dopamine — may have already been irreversibly lost. While there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, there is plenty of active research into finding drugs that will slow or halt its progression. For these drugs to be effective, early intervention is of the utmost importance.

The Charles Sturt researchers have developed software that monitors the time between key presses on a keyboard and uses this as a measure of hand tremor frequency. In tests, the system was able to correctly identify patients with mild Parkinson’s with 78 percent accuracy. While that’s not perfect accuracy by any means, it’s still enough that a person might want to get themselves examined more closely.

“Around 75 percent of PD sufferers have hand tremor as one of their symptoms, so being able to detect that tremor from keystroke characteristics can provide a second cardinal feature to satisfy the clinical diagnosis of the disease,” lead author Warwick Adams told Digital Trends. “What makes this finding so exciting is that it can lead to development of a widely available screening test for early PD: One that will be able to be used by first-level clinicians, as well as by individuals themselves.”

In addition to aiding with diagnosis, the technology could also help monitor the effectiveness of individual medication. Even without a Parkinson’s cure, this could be useful right now, since the required dosage of dopamine replacement medication changes over time.

“The reason for focusing on typing is that it is something that nearly everyone does, and it can be monitored as people use their own computer in their own home, without needing any specialized equipment,” Adams continued. “There is already a patent pending and, over the next couple years, the plan is to commercialize this research — ideally in partnership with a drug company or diagnostic services provider.”

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
You’ll soon be able to have Alexa make a donation to your favorite candidate
amazon echo show 5 review mem 2v2

Many of Alexa's new features are the result of study and analysis on part of the voice assistant's development team. During last year's midterm elections, analysts saw a massive spike in questions related to the elections. Users wanted to know which candidates were in the lead in what area, where the nearest polling station was, and much more. The team took these questions and developed functionality they believed Alexa users would appreciate, which resulted in Wednesday's announcement of Alexa Political Contributions.

This new feature will allow users to make a donation to their favorite presidential candidate by saying, "Alexa, donate to (name of candidate)." Donations of up to $200 can be made to any candidate that signs up for the program starting next month. Donations will go through Amazon Pay, the payment processing service that already handles other types of payments made through Alexa as well as purchases made on the Amazon website.

Read more
Why you may have to wait longer to check out an e-book from your local library
OverDrive Libby App

On November 26, the third book in Nora Roberts’ Chronicles of The One, The Rise of Magicks, will be published. But fans who want to download the e-book from their local library could be frustrated by long waits. And it’s not just the romance writer’s books that will be affected. 

Macmillan, which publishes the series, is only allowing library systems around the country to purchase a single e-book of newly published titles for all their branches. Eight weeks after new books launch, libraries will be able to buy more. In the interim, Helen Gutierrez expects a lot of annoyed patrons at Seattle Public Library (SPL), where she’s the collection services manager.

Read more
Uber’s new Comfort tier lets you stretch your legs, ride in silence, and more
uber settles driver background check case man driving in car the city ride share lyft getaround zipcar

Uber is launching a new category of ride called Comfort that sits between the top tier Uber Black service and the more popular Uber X option.

As its name cleverly suggests, Uber Comfort offers a few extras to ensure maximum well-being during your ride. Or at least, that’s the idea.

Read more