According to the National Parkinson Foundation, Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, affecting about 1 million Americans and an estimated 4 million people around the world.
In 2002, New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) launched its Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program, based on the concept that the movement and training used by professional dancers to build balance, power and coordination could also help Parkinson’s sufferers. Last year, seeing the potential of wearable technology, program director David Leventhal applied for and was awarded one of Google’s five Explorer grants for non-profit organizations to develop applications for the Glass platform.
The group teamed up with ad agency ad SS+K to help design, develop, and launch Moving Through Glass, an augmented reality app created to provide 24/7 aid for people with Parkinson’s that’s now available to the public.
Kevin Skobac, SVP, digital strategy and innovation at SS+K says people living with Parkinson’s were invited to review and test the project at various development stages, while researchers from New York Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center, and Stanford University’s Movement Disorders Center are advising on, and testing the app.
Parkinson’s Disease is a movement disorder affecting nerve cells and one of the most common symptoms is having difficulty initiating movement. The app features warm-up routines to get people get moving. A walking guide uses video and music to set a pace, to help with the tremors and jerky movements common with Parkinson’s that can make walking difficult. Parkinson’s sufferers can also become “stuck” in the middle of a movement and have difficulty re-initiating movement, so the app provides standing routines that gradually get users out of a freeze and back to walking.
Skobac says the biggest lesson learned during development was the importance of simplicity. “Initially we built a very very detailed application, with a wide variety of controls and options,” says Skobac. “Our thinking was that these users would need to be able to minutely control and customize their experience. Very quickly, though, we realized that we needed instead to minimize required user inputs as much as possible. Ultimately, we created an application that can start a module and run a user through a full set of exercises with just two taps or, alternatively, two spoken commands.”
Developers modified the native Glass operating system to remove all other functionalities and software beyond the basic system controls, which were gathered into a single flow to minimized the likelihood of functions being accessed accidentally. To overcome battery life challenges Skobac says they worked with dance Instructors to distill the program choreography and music into essential one-minute segments that would be run sequentially to provide maximum benefit in a minimum amount of time.
The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, says Skobac. “Feedback from the medical community has also been tremendously supportive,” he says. “Researchers at New York Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center and Stanford University’s Movement Disorders Center have requested their own devices to test with patients. But most important and gratifying, has been the reaction from the Parkinson’s community. People with Parkinson’s who have used the application so far have been inspired by its ability to provide real-time, on demand assistance through a portable, intuitive interface.”
The app is being distributed through Cornell Medical and Stanford’s Movement Disorders Center, available for lending at MMDG, and the agency will make the software available to others upon request.