The AI Revolution That Could Slow Parkinson In Its Tracks


Neal K. Shah, CEO of CareYaya Health Technologies, an AI innovator in neurological care, discussed how technology is poised to transform the fight against Parkinson, with the potential to improve millions of lives and advance health equity.

Neal K. Shah, CEO of CareYaya Health Technologies

Neal K. Shah

Credit: CareYaya Health Technologies

As we observe Parkinson's Awareness Month this April, I'm excited to explore the immense potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital health innovation in addressing one of the fastest-growing neurological disorders in the United States. There is an enormous untapped market for innovative solutions targeting Parkinson care and management, leveraging powerful new AI tools. These advancements can be game-changing—improving lives, advancing health equity, and creating enormous social impact.

Why is this so important?

Parkinson disease currently affects more than 1 million Americans, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed annually. By 2037, that number is projected to reach a staggering 1.6 million, surpassing even the growth rate of Alzheimer. The economic toll is immense, with Parkinson costing the US economy $52 billion per year in treatment, lost income, and social security payments. As our population ages, these figures are only expected to soar.

Digital health innovators who prioritize tackling Parkinson are not only tapping into a high-growth market, but also making a meaningful difference in patients' quality of life and easing the societal burden of this debilitating disease. It's a wake-up call for entrepreneurs, investors, and established health tech players to recognize the huge potential here. By leveraging AI, we have an opportunity to dramatically improve millions of lives. Here are some of the most exciting developments.

Can AI Detect Parkinson From Breathing Patterns?

Credit: MIT News

Credit: MIT News

A groundbreaking study by MIT researchers has developed an AI tool capable of detecting Parkinson disease simply by analyzing patients' breathing patterns while they sleep.1 This remarkable innovation could facilitate much earlier diagnosis and better monitoring of disease progression, potentially transforming clinical care and accelerating drug development.

The researchers demonstrated that this AI assessment can be done passively every night at home, without any bodily contact, using a device resembling a WiFi router that emits radio signals and extracts breathing patterns from their reflections. Fed into a trained neural network, the breathing data alone allowed the AI model to detect Parkinson with high accuracy in a study of over 7,000 participants, including 757 patients with Parkinson. With the potential to illuminate manifestations of the disease in patients' natural environments, this contactless sensor could provide unprecedented real-world insights to improve evaluation of new treatments.

Vibration Therapy via a Wearable Device to Reduce Tremors

UK-based startup Charco Neurotech has developed an innovative, coin-sized wearable device that delivers high-frequency vibrations to help reduce hallmark Parkinson symptoms like tremors, rigidity, and freezing of gait.2 Building on the insight that rhythmic physical stimulation can improve mobility for patients with Parkinson, the noninvasive, inexpensive CUE1 device attaches to the sternum to provide vibrational cueing.

An accompanying app allows users to personalize the vibration patterns for optimal symptom relief. The company envisions future iterations that can automatically adapt the cueing based on the user's movements. Already used by over 2,000 people in the UK with a waitlist of nearly 20,000 globally, Charco aims to ultimately get the device approved for prescription by doctors. This simple yet effective approach combines historical observations with modern technology to enhance quality of life for patients with Parkinson.

"Scrolling Therapy" to Slow Progression via Facial Muscle Exercise

Credit: Eurofarma.

Credit: Eurofarma.

In an intriguing digital therapeutic application, an experimental AI-powered app called Scrolling Therapy aims to help patients with Parkinson exercise their facial muscles through social media interactions directed by facial expressions.3 Developed through a partnership between Brazilian pharma company Eurofarma and agency Dentsu, the app uses facial recognition to enable actions like scrolling, liking, playing a video, etc, in response to specific facial gestures.

The goal is to motivate patients with Parkinson to keep those muscles active, potentially delaying progression of facial muscle atrophy and loss of facial movement associated with the disease. While not yet proven to slow disease progression, experts are hopeful that, combined with rehabilitation, this type of engaging tech-driven approach could help patients stay active in fighting advancement of their Parkinson. It's a promising example of harnessing AI capabilities for social good.

Art Therapy: AI-Powered Personalized Expressive Therapy

Mary, a patient with Parkinson, draws her golden retriever Tara, who passed away years ago.

Credit: CareYaya

Mary, a patient with Parkinson, draws her golden retriever Tara, who passed away years ago.

Credit: CareYaya

At CareYaya, we are pioneering AI algorithms that can create personalized art therapy sessions for patients with Parkinson.4 Our innovative online marketplace, which matches healthcare students seeking clinical hours with patients in need of caregiving and companionship, leverages AI to provide engaging, therapeutic experiences.

Using any tablet or touchscreen, our AI art therapy application employs tactile motions that are translated into images, enabling visual discovery, memory prompts, and creative expression. This intuitive design allows patients with limited mobility and tremors to produce colors and images with even short finger strokes, stimulating parts of the brain that may be difficult to access in other areas of life. By analyzing patients' interactions and progress over time, AI algorithms tailor art projects that uniquely stimulate both the mind and motor skills for each individual.

In collaboration with Stanford Parkinson's Community Outreach, we are seeing firsthand how AI-powered art therapy is making a positive impact. Expressive therapies like art can help patients with Parkinson disconnect from their surroundings and enter a beneficial flow state. Research has shown that art can improve visual-cognitive skills, visuospatial processing, and overall motor function in patients with Parkinson.

The Future of AI-Powered Parkinson Care

From transformative diagnostic tools to innovative therapeutic devices and digital health interventions, AI and other cutting-edge technologies hold immense promise for improving the lives of patients with Parkinson and supporting their caregivers. By enabling earlier detection, personalized symptom management, and even potential delay of disease progression, these advancements can make an enormous positive impact on millions of patients and families.

But beyond the benefits to individual patients, realizing the potential of AI-driven innovation in this space can advance health equity by increasing access to high-quality Parkinson care. By delivering more precise assessments remotely and at lower costs, such tools can extend essential support to traditionally underserved populations including rural communities and mobility-limited individuals.

We are at an extraordinary moment of possibility, as the power of artificial intelligence converges with the pressing need for better solutions in neurological care. As someone working at the forefront of AI-driven health innovation, I am continually inspired by the brilliant minds across academia, business, and medicine who share a commitment to pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

To my fellow innovators and leaders, I issue a rallying call: let us harness the game-changing capabilities of AI to profoundly elevate quality of life for the Parkinson community. In doing so, we can build a future of health equity and improve the lives of millions.

Neal K. Shah is the CEO of CareYaya Health Technologies, one of the fastest-growing health tech startups in America. He runs a social enterprise and applied research lab utilizing AI to advance health equity, with a focus on care for elders with Parkinson, Alzheimer and dementia. Shah has advanced AI projects to improve neurological care with support from the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins AITC and Harvard Innovation Labs. Neal is a “Top Healthcare Voice” on LinkedIn with a 30k+ following.

1. Ouyang A. Artificial intelligence model can detect Parkinson’s from breathing patterns. MIT News. Published August 22, 2022, Accessed April 18, 2024.
2. Katwala A.This Small Wearable Device Reduces Parkinson’s Symptoms. Wired Magazine. Published February 8, 2024. Accessed April 18, 2024.
3. Bushak L. Scrolling Therapy: the AI-powered app that could slow down Parkinson’s disease progression. MM+M. Published March 2, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024.
4. Wertz A. Artificial Intelligence pairs caregiver students with elderly patients. KTVU San Francisco. Published December 13, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024.
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