A Telephone Call to Check for Parkinson’s?

Mathematician Max Little is ont to an exciting method for checking Parkinson’s, one that perfectly exemplifies the hoped-for achievements of modern telemedicine.

Today I’d like to explain just how much different his approach is, and how it could revolutionize the diagnosis process for Parkinson’s across the world, and all for a simple phone call and at an extremely low cost.

The Current Problem With Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease
You see, right now, it’s very difficult to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, and consequently, we often don’t catch it until much later than we should. As a result, patient’s lives are more difficult than they need to be, and many avoidable problems are caused by the late diagnosis.

There are no definite biological markers for Parkinson’s — no blood test changes, no hormone or chemical signal that tells us when a patient has Parkinson’s. Right now, the best we can do is send a patient to a neurologist’s office and have them undergo a 20-minute evaluation. This evaluation takes time and is extremely costly.

A New Test?
Max Little is working on a voice analysis program that will diagnose Parkinson’s, as well as monitor the progression of the disease. In the end, all it will take is a 30-second phone call to diagnose Parkinson’s disease with 99% accuracy.

However, as part of his research, he’s collecting thousands of voice samples from people who have Parkinson’s and who do not. Then, by analyzing the variations in sound waves as they exit the vocal chords, he can detect minute physiological changes in coordination that are the signs of Parkinson’s disease.

When explaining the phenomenon, Max Little’s brilliant example is that of his friend, a former virtuoso dancer who has lost his ability to dance because of Parkinson’s. In dancers, the early signs of Parkinson’s are easier to detect because they disrupt the finely tuned movements that all dancing requires.

But we all have another skill that takes a similar amount of practice and coordination, and that is speech. The finely-tuned modulation of sound waves that actually encodes meaningful information is one of the most exceptional human talents, and Parkinson’s early neurological effects are easier to detect in such demanding tasks.

Thanks to Max Little, we might all be able to make a simple phone call as part of our yearly check-up, and live completely free of the fear that Parkinson’s could be invading our lives. Compared to a $300 neurologist’s visit, the trade off is an amazing example of what technology can do for medicine.