Healthy Living

Study Shows that Drawing a Spiral May Reveal Signs of Parkinson's

Study Shows that Drawing a Spiral May Reveal Signs of Parkinson's

Australian researchers combined different measurements using drawing speed and pressure applied to a pen to diagnose volunteers’ Parkinson’s disease severity.

In light of measures taken against current healthcare policy in the U.S. and the absence of a viable proposal that defends the rights of people with chronic diseases, it may seem as a hard time for people affected by conditions such as Parkinson’s. However, none of the aforementioned stops clinical research from advancing diagnosis and treatment techniques.

One of the latest tests taken by the healthcare community responsible of advances regarding Parkinson’s was held by a group of Australian researchers who gathered volunteers with different levels of Parkinson’s severity. The test consisted in the volunteers drawing a simple spiral on a sheet of paper. Once the patients had finished their drawings, researchers used a specialized software developed by themselves which stacked up the processing power of a tablet computer and an automated system that carefully analyzed the strokes and how fast patients were able to complete the stroke in order to determine the severity of the condition.

This study is a great starting point for the development of avant-garde and modern ways to diagnose the condition. But surely the most surprising fact about this method is that it can be used by doctors to track the progress of the condition in patients suffering from it.

A New Method to Detect Parkinson’s Severity

Parkinson’s is defined as a neurodegenerative disorders that among other consequences may cause:

  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Difficulty to walk and other movements

Until now, most treatment options for people affected by Parkinson’s disease are effective only when doctors diagnose the condition at early stages, because once symptoms are very noticeable it may be a little too late to start. It is also very important to make sure doctors are able to detect the severity of the condition. Based in the severity on the condition it is easier to make proper diagnoses and establish a suitable treatment that will help alleviate symptoms. Right treatment decisions and a good follow-up of symptoms progression can change a lot of things for patients suffering from this condition. 

Breaking Down the Drawing Test

As simple as it may seem, the test has proved to be an excellent way to unveil the level of severity from Parkinson’s disorder suffered by someone. The evaluation consists in volunteers drawing a simple spiral on a sheet of paper, however, what was actually useful information for the team of Australian researchers was the pressure applied by volunteers while they were drawing the spiral, as well as the variations on this level of pressure.

The group of scientists from Melbourne designed a specialized software able to measure the velocity of volunteers’ strokes and the pressure applied to the pen while they are drawing the spirals. The test reveals that people affected by Parkinson’s disease draw slower since the disease affects movements by causing consistent shaking and muscular rigidity. This ground-breaking technology program was tested on 55 people. From the group selected, 27 volunteers suffered from Parkinson’s, the other ones had no kind of neurodegenerative disease at all.

According to the report made by the team of researches published in the journal “Frontiers of Neurology,” the special software was used to monitor the drawing test and was able to distinguish those with the disease, as well as the severity of the disorder.

The Future of the Test

Now that it has been discovered a proper way to test the severity of the condition on patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, efforts to develop it and make it even more accurate than it already is are foreseeable. Poonam Zham, a researcher that was part of the group of scientists behind the study, stated that the goal was to develop an affordable, automated electronic system for the early diagnosis of the disease that could easily be used by a community doctor or nursing staff.

The software measures the speed and pressure with which the spiral is drawn and combines both data to provide a diagnosis, so it could be used by general practitioners to examine their patients that are more than 40 years old and control the effect treatments have on them. Tests, however, were not yet able to accurately measure the evolution of an individual's condition, which is essential for developing new and better treatments for Parkinson's.

Increasing accuracy from the test in order to make it more reliable is currently the most important aspect that needs to be improved regarding the test.

Drawbacks and Possible Limitations

Even though the greatest limitation of the test is easily its lack of accuracy, there are a few minor drawbacks that can also mentioned be and probably the most remarkable one is that only an expert is able to interpret the sketches and results given by the software, which also required a medium level of instruction. Without proper interpretation from an expert, it can be very difficult to determine the level of severity of the disease from the sketches alone. The difficulty increases if the patient is still in early stages of the condition.

It is important to mention that previous research have already shown that patients with Parkinson’s disease move their pen slower and apply less pressure but there are no signs of how pen speed may evidence important information for diagnosis and treatment.

Conclusions on the Drawing Test for Parkinson’s Diagnoses

It is quite impressive how a simple drawing can help professionals define the level of severity the patient has, being able to actually differentiate patients with level 1 severity from patients with level 3 of severity. The best single aspect about this test is that it is very affordable and does not require specialized equipment other than the software developed by the team of researches.

It is expected that in a few years of development and improvement on current practices, this method will be the most practical way to determine the severity of the condition in patients and even become part of routine checkups for patients that are some years above middle-age.