Europeans developing automatic monitoring for Parkinson's

By Neil Versel
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REMPARK Parkinson's MonitorIt's one thing to detect the telltale stiffness, tremors, spasms and loss of muscle control of Parkinson's disease with wireless sensors, as Great Lakes Neurotechnologies is doing with its Kinesia HomeView system. It's another to add automatic medication administration to this type of technology.

A multi-country project funded by the European Union aims to do just that. Researchers in Spain, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium have joined on a 42-month, $5.2 million effort to develop a wearable monitoring system that automatically delivers medications and provides cues to help Parkinson's patients recover from "gait freezing" episodes.

Visual or audible cues often help people with Parkinsonian symptoms start moving again when their muscles freeze up while walking. Gait freezing can lead to balance problems and dangerous falls.

The European project, dubbed REMPARK (for Personal Health Device for the Remote and Autonomous Management of Parkinson's Disease), combines Bluetooth low-energy sensors worn on the waist and wrist with a control unit that processes movement data and wirelessly connects the sensors to a smartphone. The wrist sensor looks for muscle tremors, while the waist belt measures body movement, including gait.

An actuation part of the system provides audible, visual and touch-related cues—the latter by electrical stimulation—to get the patient moving again after an episode of gait freezing. It also includes a wireless infusion pump to deliver medications.

The monitoring and actuation components of the system link to each other via smartphone, which also sends data to and from medical professionals overseeing patient care. Researchers, led by the Technical Research Center for Dependency, Care and Autonomous Living (CETpD) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (BarcelonaTech) in Spain, also are building a central server to store and analyze data sent from these body-area networks.

Recruitment is underway for planned pilot tests on 60 Parkinson's patients in Spain, Ireland, Italy and Israel, according to organizers.

Other participating companies and organizations include Spanish telecom Telefónica, Teknon Medical Center in Barcelona and the European Parkinson's Disease Association. Funding officially began in February 2011 and will run through 2015.

Watch a video demonstration of REMPARK here.