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Improving symptom assessment in Parkinson’s disease

Improving symptom assessment in Parkinson’s disease

A new device that can be used to measure rigidity in Parkinson’s disease is set to improve symptom assessment and treatment. 

  • Bionics Institute researchers are developing a wearable hand device to measure the symptom of rigidity in people with Parkinson’s disease. 
  • Use of the device will eventually give clinicians a quick and objective way to measure progression of the disease and effectiveness of therapy. 
  • Accurate assessment of symptoms will improve treatment and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. 

Watch a 2 minute video on our Parkinson’s disease research

Why is new technology needed to monitor Parkinson’s disease?

More than six million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease [1].

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease that causes abnormal brain activity and is characterised by tremor, muscle rigidity, slow movements, slurred speech and issues with posture and balance.

Treatment of Parkinson’s disease is focused on controlling symptoms to give people the best quality of life through medication or deep brain stimulation therapy.

Clinicians need accurate ways to measure the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease so they can tailor and improve treatment to maximise quality of life.

However, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can change over time and doctors need to continuously adjust treatment to ensure therapy is just right.

Accurate assessment can be challenging for clinicians, especially when small changes occur in response to treatment, or there are long periods of time between assessments.

In addition, the increased use of telehealth requires measurement symptoms remotely.

How does the Bionics Institute Rigidity Device improve symptom assessment?

Bionics Institute researchers are in the early stages of developing a wearable device called the Bionics Institute Rigidity Device (BiRD) that measures the Parkinson’s disease symptom of rigidity.

The electronic device, designed to be placed on the hand, has sensors that record hand and finger movement in response to a miniature motor that pulls the finger back and forth.

A major benefit of the technology is that it only takes two minutes for the device to give precise and objective information on the level of rigidity in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Early-stage clinical trials have shown that the device can distinguish between people with and without the disease as well as track the results of therapy.

Next steps

The next step is to test the device in a larger clinical trial, with the aim of characterising device performance across a variety of people with Parkinson’s disease.

A third-generation prototype was completed in 2021 and has been approved for use in a larger clinical trial, which is currently underway across two hospitals.

Want to get involved?

To continue our BiRD project, we need healthy volunteers and people with Parkinson’s disease to participate in our research study.

We’re looking for people who have:

  • No other known bone, joint or neuromuscular disorders affecting both upper limbs
  • Full range of movement at the fingers, hands, elbows and shoulders
  • No previous brain surgery (people with Parkinson’s disease with deep brain stimulation can participate).

The research team

Bionics Institute researchers:

Dr Thushara Perera and Dr Melissa Louey


Student researchers:

Mr Asif Mohammed.

Clinical trial nurses:

Amanda Goy and Ella Flannagan.

Clinical collaborator:

A/Prof Wesley Thevathasan.


More information for researchers

Figure 1.

The Bionics Institute Rigidity Device (BiRD) is a 3D-printed prototype (a) designed to be worn on the palm. A miniature electric motor flexes the third digit and a transducer embedded at the interface between the harness and finger measures force. The amount of force per degree of flexion quantifies rigidity.

Figure 2.

Rigidity, measured with the BiRD, is represented as Force Rate (the amount of force required per degree of finger flexion). Force Rate can differentiate between Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapeutic states (a), as well as those with and without Parkinson’s disease (b). Furthermore, Force Rate can be used to characterize the increase in rigidity due to the performance of an activation task (contralateral arm movement). HC = Healthy Controls. Error bars indicate standard deviations; * p < 0.05; ** p < 0.001.

Figure 3.

Force Rate measured by the BiRD indicates a gradual increase in rigidity following Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) cessation (grey shaded region). Rigidity returns to baseline levels almost immediately upon resumption of DBS. Force Rate is generally in agreement with mean clinical ratings. Error bars indicate standard error.



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