Because it doesn't show up in either blood tests or brain scans, Parkinson's disease can be frustratingly difficult to diagnose. A new device could help, however, by repeatedly bending the patient's finger. It may make diagnoses easier, and allow treatment to start earlier.

Developed at Melbourne, Australia's Bionics Institute, the tool is known as the Bionics Institute Rigidity Device … or the BiRD, for short.

Attached to the patient's hand via Velcro straps, it utilizes a tiny motor to bend their middle finger repetitively over a period of 30 seconds. As it does so, it utilizes integrated sensors to register the amount of force required to bend that finger. This provides an objective measurement of any muscle stiffness, which is one of the first Parkinson's symptoms to appear – the stiffer the finger, the more advanced the disease.

In lab tests, the BiRD was successfully able to differentiate between Parkinson's patients and healthy volunteers. It could initially be used in doctor's offices, for a test that would take just a few minutes. Down the road, however, it might also be utilized by patients.

"In the future, patients may be able to use the BiRD at home to monitor their own health and provide a report to their doctor, just like a blood glucose monitor for diabetics," says the device's inventor, Dr. Thushara Perera. "This will help their doctor decide how to give the best treatment to their patients, including which medications to administer."