The wearable device prompts patients suffering from Parkinson's disease in dealing with typical symptoms like drooling and freezing episodes, or when its time to take a prescribed medication or see their doctor.
Parkinson's disease causes motor dysfunction such as tremors, drooling, difficulty talking, impaired balance, stiffness and freezing – a feeling of being stuck in place and unable to move.
The symptoms are due to the loss of brain cells that contain dopamine, a chemical that controls movement and coordination.
Parkinson's is chronic and progressive, and data says between 7 and 10 million people worldwide suffer not only from symptoms but the social stigma associated with having the condition.
Health researchers at Newcastle University are testing Google Glass to assist patients in minimizing some of the more humiliating symptoms of Parkinson's such as drooling and freezing.
The wearable device with a computer-aided display can prompt a patient to speak or swallow to prevent drooling, aside from giving reminders when it is time to take a pill or go to a doctor's appointment.
Working with volunteers diagnosed with Parkinson's, the researchers say the participants were receptive to using the wearable device, and the seniors are working with the research group on how to make full use of its features.
One area they are looking at is how to utilize the sensors from Google Glass to one day prevent the phenomenon called freezing.
Parkinson's patients are prone to having freezing episodes when they start changing positions from sitting to standing, or when they are about to walk. Such awkward and embarrassing scenarios can affect patients so much that many of them get depressed, another symptom common among those who suffer from Parkinson's.
Google Glass' wearable device with its discreet prompts can help patients be aware of freezing triggers, make purposeful movements, listen to music, or see a display of an imaginary line to step over, all existing tips usually given to patients to avoid freezing.
“It is very early days – Glass is such new technology we are still learning how it might be used but the beauty of this research project is we are designing the apps and systems for Glass in collaboration with the users so the resulting applications should exactly meet their needs,”
Says Dr. John Vines, research lead at the Digital Interaction Group in Culture Lab of the University of Newcastle's School of Computing Science.
One such health app can monitor the symptoms and movements of Parkinson's disease patients. The app developed by the University of Queensland is
“part of a larger monitoring system that uses, among other things, micro-sensors worn on the body to monitor patients' movements and voice patterns,"
Says Dr. Jacki Liddle, from the UQ Centre for Clinical Research.
Google Glass' own sensor and voice-recognition technologies have the potential to work with these other technologies to help Parkinson's disease patients.
The report by the University of Newcastle will be presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems later this month in Toronto, Canada, where similar studies using Google Glass will also be highlighted.
Already one of the most prominent wearable devices in development, Google Glass is shaping up to be more than a mass-market wearable computer it was designed to be.
Google glass is already being tested in other fields as varied as medicine, firefighting and oil exploration.
For example, emergency room doctors at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston are using Google Glass to help retrieve medical files from computers and display them on the wearable device's screen.
The hospital is partnering with Wearable Intelligence who developed enterprise software using Google Glass to improve the performance of hospital workers. By scanning Quick Response or QR codes with Google Glass, doctors there can quickly diagnose or treat a patient without losing much eye contact with the patient at the bedside instead of poring over a computer terminal.
Surgeons are also using Google Glass to see MRI scans and stream live video feeds to teach residents and collaborate with foreign colleagues.