Gloves to reduce tremors from Parkinson’s
Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University launches latest gloves which are lightweight and cheaper than its previous version.
Tremors, slowness, and stiffness are the noticeable symptoms of patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), especially the hand tremors found in 70 percent of patients. These uncontrollable tremors make patients appear disabled and unable to enjoy their daily routines, calling for caregivers, which lowers their self-esteem and makes them scared to socialise. Currently, there are 10 million PD patients worldwide, 150,000 of whom are in Thailand.
Parkinson’s disease is currently treated with a cocktail of medications, which is unable to reduce all the tremors. Some patients with very strong tremors may need brain surgery – an undesirable option due to its high cost and many side effects. This conundrum has inspired a team of researchers at the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, led by Prof Dr Roongroj Bhidayasiri and Asst Prof Dr Onanong Phokaewvarangkul to research and develop the prototype of the “tremor-reducing Parkinson’s gloves” in 2014, which was patented as a portable tremor-measuring and reducing device using electrical muscle stimulation in 2017.
Many research articles have been published in international medical journals to support the efficiency of the device. The team has now succeeded in developing the 5th generation of its tremor-reducing Parkinson’s gloves, which are lightweight, easy to wear, effective and cheaper than the similar imported devices.
“The tremor-reducing Parkinson’s gloves are the first medical device that can help reduce tremors in the hands of PD patients through automatic electric stimulation of the hand muscles without having to increase their medication and reduce the risk of brain surgery,” discussed Asst Prof Dr Onanong. Consisting of three main components: A glove with the muscle stimulator installed, a control panel, and a mobile phone with an application to control the device. The Parkinson’s gloves work via a Bluetooth connection.
So how exactly does the Parkinson’s gloves work? The gloves detect and measure Parkinson’s tremors using an accelerometer and a gyroscope, which are highly accurate and low in error risk. They will then suppress the tremors with electrical stimulation of the hand muscles. When the sensors detect Parkinson’s-specific tremors, they will transmit a signal via Bluetooth to the muscle stimulator to release an electric current that will reduce the tremors from a small battery. The muscle stimulator uses the physiotherapy standard resistance, frequency and electric current, which are safe for use with patients. The gloves can also be used to reduce tremors in the hand from other conditions as well. The patient needs to always wear the glove to stimulate the hand muscles with electric current. If the device is turned off, the tremors will return. Currently, these gloves have been given to over 50 Parkinson’s disease patients at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and are said to be effective.
Asst Prof Dr Onanong added: “As we move further into the ageing society, the number of PD patients will only increase. Our estimation predicts an increase of two to three times in the future.” He said that the rise of PD patients will affect the socioeconomic status and the treatment methods in the country’s public health system. If the PD patients are of working age, their quality of life and performance will be affected, as well as the financial status of their families.
On the other hand, older patients with Parkinson’s disease will face many other health issues from age, including poor balance, difficulty walking, and stiff muscles. Other health-related problems may also follow such as falling, which could lead to injuries or broken bones, causing them to potentially become bedridden. All of these have an impact on the methods of treatment, budget, and well-being of both the patients and their families, as well as the country’s public health system.
The tremor-reducing Parkinson’s gloves were awarded the National Innovation Award in Society and Environment (Private Sector) 2022 from the National Innovation Agency (Public Organisation), and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, and Innovation, Thailand. In the future, the team plans to develop the gloves to be smaller and better looking. They won’t look like a medical device, but more like an accessory or part of an outfit. And, more development will be put in to include detection and reduction of tremors in other parts of the body, such as the legs, as well as tremors stemming from other diseases.