Typing speed, the time it takes you to write a page of text, may turn out to be an early identifier of hand tremors; and a predictor of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Tremors can appear up to six years before Parkinson’s is evident and diagnosed by your physician. Advances in medical research continue to raise new possibilities for identifying Parkinson’s disease before traditional symptoms develop. A chronic, persistent, neurodegenerative disorder that generally develops after the age of 60, PD affects around 6 million people throughout the world.1
Parkinson’s has neither a definitive diagnostic test nor a cure at the present time. Research on early diagnostic tools suggests that Parkinson’s may be able to be identified through a person’s senses, by a smell test, or a breath test. New findings highlight the identification of Parkinson’s-like symptoms based on the speed of keyboard typing. While not a sole predictor of the disease, the research shows an extremely high correlation between the prediction of PD using typing skills analysis to evaluate the presence of hand tremors.
If successful, these results could lead to a low cost, highly accurate way to identify people who may have, or are likely to develop, PD. Typing tests could be administered in the office of a primary physician or at home, long before someone would typically seek out a neurologist or movement disorder specialist.
PD manifests uniquely for each person. People don’t necessarily experience the same effects at the same time during the course of the disease. Neurodegenerative and non-neurodegenerative symptoms can mimic other conditions. This can make diagnosis imprecise.
Parkinson’s is most often diagnosed by a neurologist long after the condition develops. A visit to a primary practitioner or a referral to a neurologist tends to take place once symptoms are not only present but have been present for some time or become bothersome. As there is no single tool used in diagnosis, experts evaluate a good medical history combined with anecdotes of changes in performance of normal activity. They evaluate motor movements such as gait, speech, voice, and handwriting; all of which can be affected by PD.2
The typing test
Hand tremor is a common pre-diagnostic symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Analysis of finger movements when performing keyboard typing has been able to distinguish between people with and without PD. The specific characteristics and the time it takes someone to type can indicate if they experience hand tremor. The test requires no special equipment and requires no more than a half a page of typing. The assessments use key hold times and latency (slowness of movement), as well as speed and accuracy. Results have been significant when compared to control subjects who have neither hand tremors nor Parkinson’s.2,3
Role of typing test results
To be of predictive and repeatable use, assessments must be valid and accurate regardless of the relative skills of those administering the test. The findings reflect diagnostic accuracy that is significantly better than that of physicians who are not specialists. The goal of objective, accurate and early diagnosis of PD may be achieved in part through these typing tests where symptoms are not yet recognizable. Success rates in establishing sensitivity and specificity of the test accuracy have been statistically significant, including the ability to differentiate between a PD tremor and an essential tremor (an involuntary motor disorder that generally involves the shaking of the hands that is not related to Parkinson’s).2
Medical science continues to look for both physical and functional biomarkers to enhance diagnostic and predictive information for people with Parkinson’s as well as other medical conditions. Once identified these attributes can be used for identifying precision therapies.2
Thompson, A. The speed you type on a keyboard could reveal if you are in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Published online August 30, 2018.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6113881/The-speed-type-keyboard-reveal-early-stages-Parkinsons-disease.html. Accessed online September 15, 2018.
Adams WR. High-accuracy detection of early Parkinson's Disease using multiple characteristics of finger movement while typing. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(11):e0188226. Published online November 30, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5708704/. Accessed online September 16, 2018.
Adams, WR. The detection of hand tremor through the characteristics of finger movements while typing. Posted August 5, 2018. bioRxiv 385286; doi:https://doi.org/10.1101/385286. Accessed online September 17, 2018.