Computer keyboards could detect early-stage Parkinson's disease

rbrb_3444  (Royalty-free)Collection:  Rubberball ProductionsCaption:   Close-up of a human finger typing on a computer keyboard

It's tough identifying Parkinson's disease in its early stages -- there are no standard lab tests to diagnose it and symptoms are subtle. A group of MIT researchers believe the answer could lie in something a lot of people already use: the computer keyboard. They've recently conducted a study proving that people with conditions affecting motor function have different typing patterns than those who don't. To be exact, the researchers designed plug-in software to measure how long subjects pressed each key before releasing it. Those with impaired motor skills ended up pressing keys for a longer duration.

Most of the time, a big part of the brain is already damaged before the illness becomes apparent. An early diagnosis will allow doctors to plan a treatment strategy that slows down its effects. Motor skill impairment, however, doesn't automatically mean Parkinson's. In fact, the study's original goal was to observe the effects of fatigue. After the team determined that it could work as a diagnostic tool for Parkinson's, though, they enlisted the help of 21 patients for more tests.

The team found that those with the condition exhibited "greater variation in the keystrokes" compared to the 15-person control group. Sounds promising, but the results have to be validated in larger studies with people in various stages of the disease, before doctors can start asking possible patients to take typing tests.

[Image credit: Getty Images]