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Potentially breakthrough technology in Parkinson’s disease: its early signs might be detected by a three minutes phone call

Parkinson’s disease sufferers might learn about their condition years earlier by making a simple phone call.

Dr Max Little, a British researcher, is recruiting Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to participate in a three-minute phone call. All they have to do is to make certain vocal sounds like “ah,” speak some sentences and answer a few questions.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a technology that analyzes tremors, breathiness and other weaknesses in people’s voices, which are believed to be one of this neurological condition’s earliest symptoms.

Researchers have already tested this technology in lab condition and say that their computer program can pick out Parkinson’s sufferers with 98.6% accuracy by analyzing their speech.

The system could be programmed to diagnose people remotely, allowing earlier treatment, Dr Little said. The Parkinson’s Voice Initiative aims to collect 10,000 recordings through telephone, under realistic, non-lab conditions, to test the hypothesis that it is possible to detect Parkinson’s disease through these recordings.

Science tells us voice impairment might be an early sign of Parkinson’s. It sounds counterintuitive as Parkinson’s is a movement disorder but the voice is a form of movement. We don’t tend to think of the larynx and vocal chords but you are moving them when you make speech sounds. It’s a complex sound of movement and it tends to degrade in Parkinson’s. Neurologists look at changes in the ability to move, which is done with the limbs, but we are looking in the vocal organs – the sounds that come out of the mouth. We are fairly confident we can detect the disease over the telephone,” Dr Max Little said.

The success of this research will provide a very cheap and accurate way to detect Parkinson’s disease.


Parkinson's disease early detection

Analyzing a three-minute phone call might become a test for Parkinson’s disease early detection.


Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It affects mostly people over 50 and often starts with hand tremors followed by symptoms including muscle rigidity or stiffness and slow movement.

Patients don’t have enough dopamine in their brain and without this chemical the movements become slower.

There are over 6 million people living with the incurable disease and the number will increase because of aging population. There are no tests to detect the condition earlier, before the symptoms appear. Current objective symptom tests for Parkinson’s are expensive, time-consuming, and logistically difficult.

All recordings made by the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative are non-identifiable, and no personal information is stored.

The phone call lasts 3 minutes on average, and normally less than 5 minutes. The call is low-charged. You have to be at least 18 years old to take part in the study. However, the participation is only for scientific purpose, so you will not get a diagnostic after the call. If you have symptoms, or if you think you could have Parkinson’s disease, you should visit a neurologist.

If you want to participate, please visit www.parkinsonsvoice.org.