Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK have conducted a study into how Google Glass can be used to assist sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. The team is working directly with patients to develop straightforward and useful technology that will help sufferers cope with the disease, while aiding them in becoming more independent.

The project is the first UK medical study using Google’s wearable tech, and makes use of five headsets donated to the university by the company. The researchers have been working with a group of volunteers aged 46-70, tailoring the functionality of the apps they develop to suit the real-life needs of the patients.

Perhaps the most basic way that the team is using Glass is to provide personal reminders for things such as appointment times and medication schedules. Conditions such as Parkinson’s require a complex and timely routine of medication that can be difficult for patients to follow.

"People would probably say you can do all these things on a smartphone but actually, with Parkinson’s, negotiating a touch screen is really difficult," said Lynn Tearse, a volunteer on the study.

The ability to place calls and perform other actions using voice commands makes Glass a useful tool for people coping with the condition, and provides them with an easy and immediate connection to their friends or loved ones.

The team has also developed software to help sufferers of the disease cope with and control some of the common issues they face. The technology provides discreet prompts to remind users to speak loudly or to swallow to prevent them drooling, a common side effect of the condition. Glass is uniquely useful in this regard, due largely to its nature.

"People with Parkinson’s are already coping with so much and one of the main causes of social isolation is the stigma around behaviors such as drooling and tremor which they have no control over," explained Roisin McNaney, a PhD student.

The team has also worked to assist patients with another key symptom of the disease, known as freezing. This is where the patient has difficulty moving from one point to another, commonly through doors.

When this occurs, a visual cue, such as a laser pen pointer, can help the person start moving again. The motion sensing technology and heads-up-display of Glass have the potential to make the process more intuitive and discrete.

While there’s a long way to go before the technology is likely to become widely available, the team is confident in their findings.

"What was really encouraging from this early study was how well our volunteers took to the wearable technology and the fact that they could see the potential in it," said Dr John Vines, a lead on the study.

Despite having no announced commercial release date, Google Glass has already been used in a number of interesting and intuitive ways. These range from apps to detect when you’re getting too tired to drive or to boost user security at ATMs, to some somewhat racier applications.

The initial findings will shortly be presented at the ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) 2014 conference in Toronto, Canada, which runs from April 26 to May 1. Watch the video below for more on the University of Newcastle’s study.

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