Google Glass could have a big role in aiding people afflicted with Parkinson's disease.
In a series of medical tests conducted at Newcastle University in the UK, Parkinson's sufferers volunteered to try Google Glass to see if the gadget could help them better manage certain behaviors and symptoms. The test used five pairs of Glass donated by Google as researchers tried to determine if the technology could support people with long-term medical conditions, according to a press release from the university.
Those with Parkinson's sometimes experience a type of "freeze" in which they suddenly stop moving and need some type of trigger to get them to move again. Google Glass can provide certain visual cues to wearers during such a freeze to unblock their brain and help them regain their movement.
"Your legs gradually freeze up and the difficulty is getting started again," Lynn Tearse, a retired teacher diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2008, said in the press release. "The brain seems to need a point beyond the blockage to fix on...This is where Glass could really make a difference."
People who have Parkinson's also lose their automatic swallowing ability, which means they have a tendency to drool. In such cases, Google Glass can remind the person to speak or to swallow to avoid drooling.
Taking medication on time is also critical for Parkinson's sufferers to control their symptoms on a consistent basis. But juggling all the necessary drugs can be a challenge. Google Glass can easily remind people which medications to take at the right time.
"I was taking two or three different drugs every two hours, different combinations at different times of the day; some with water, some with food, the instructions are endless," said Ken Booth, a former salesman diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991. "Having a reminder that is literally in your face wherever you are and whatever you are doing would really help."
Google applauded the researchers' use of Google Glass. "It's early days for Glass, but Newcastle University is an excellent example of how both people and institutions are thinking creatively about how to unlock the potential of wearables like Glass," a Google spokesman said. "We're excited about their work and look forward to seeing it develop in the months and years ahead."
A total of five people with Parkinson's volunteered for the study. Almost 20 people with the condition are now involved in the ongoing research, according to a university spokeswoman. The testing itself is still at an early stage but so far sounds promising based on the feedback from the volunteers.
"Parkinson's can be very isolating," Tearse said. "Ken and I work together -- we went away last month and I learnt to ski -- but the Parkinson's symptoms and the drug side effects can be frightening and often embarrassing and not always well understood. Any technology which promotes confidence and helps people take better control of their condition and their life should be welcomed."
Update, 9:38 a.m. PT: With comment from a Google spokesman.