Can I Use the Apple Watch to Track Parkinson’s Symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) can follow a different course for each person, so it’s important to take note of what symptoms are occurring when, and how they are progressing, if at all. If medication isn’t working as well as it once was, and you either need a higher dose or perhaps a switch of treatments, it can be helpful to keep track of symptoms throughout the day and over time.

There are approximately one million people in America living with PD, and each year about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition. Worldwide, there are more than 10 million people living with Parkinson’s disease. This means there are a lot of individuals under the care of a doctor, and ways to help streamline care help benefit both patient and provider.1

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

The symptoms of Parkinson’s can be broken down into motor symptoms and non-motor symptoms. Symptoms can vary among individuals, and not all symptoms have to be present for a diagnosis to be made. Likewise, if you have a diagnosis of PD, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have all of these symptoms.

The five primary motor symptoms of PD include: tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slow movement), balance problems (also known as postural instability), and walking or gait problems.2Changes to the voice are also common, including changes in volume or fluctuation, stuttering, or slurred speech.

Non-motor symptoms of PD include changes in the sense of smell, sleep disturbances, mood changes, changes in cognition, fatigue, personality disturbances, urinary issues, and more. While the Apple Watch won’t be able to help with any of these symptoms, it’s worth noting them and keeping an eye out for any unusual symptoms that may come up.

How can an Apple Watch help manage Parkinson's symptoms?

In late 2018, Apple expects to launch a software update that will include an app that will be able to differentiate between random or functional movement and tremors or dyskinesia of Parkinson’s.3 The tremors associated with PD usually occur during periods of rest and is a slow, rhythmic tremor. It starts off on one side and eventually moves to both sides; it can also affect the head, mouth, jaw, and tongue. Dyskinesia in PD doesn’t affect everyone, and when it does occur, can vary greatly. Dyskinesia is “an abnormal, uncontrolled, involuntary movement.”4 It can occur in one limb or part of the body, or all over the body. Stress or emotions can make dyskinesia worse, and it often occurs when tremors and other PD symptoms are under control.4 Sometimes medications can cause dyskinesia, as well.

This can be especially helpful to track behaviors, notice any patterns, and even perhaps be an indicator of symptom or disease progression and the need to increase or change medication. Often times, individuals will take medication several times a day, but not realize that they might need to take a dose earlier than they have been, and attribute their Parkinson’s symptoms like tremor to fatigue or hunger. This app can help differentiate between kinds of movement and aid in altering their medication schedule if necessary. If the doctor has access to the data at any time, this can also help the patient in-between visits, if they only see the doctor every six months. If something comes up in the interim, it can be addressed sooner and perhaps more effectively because of early intervention.

Of course, using the Apple Watch would bring up questions about whether doctors would be trained in using the app and reading the data and patient access to the Watch. Apple Watches are expensive and aren’t accessible to everyone. There’s talk about Apple pairing with some insurance companies to help subsidize the cost, but that’s not finalized yet.

The watch software is supposed to be available later in 2018, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for it. If you think it might be helpful, talk with your doctor about whether they’ve heard anything about it, and if they think it would benefit you.

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