RESEARCHERS at a North-East university have begun trials which could help the UK’s 120,000 Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
Experts at Newcastle University are investigating the benefits that Google Glass could have on people with the neurological illness, which is incurable.
Developed by Google, and currently only available in the USA, it works like a hands-free smartphone, displaying information on the lens of the Glass.
Working with a group of Parkinson’s volunteers aged between 46 and 70, the study found it could help them retain their independence for longer.
Partners Lynn Tearse, 46, and Ken Booth, 56, from County Durham, were among the first volunteers to try out Glass as part of the trial.
Mr Booth, who was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, said: “They’re just fantastic. The potential for someone with Parkinson’s is endless.
“For me the biggest benefit was confidence. When you freeze your legs stop working, but your body carries on moving forward and it’s easy to fall.
“Because Glass is connected to the internet, you can link it to computers and mobile phones.
“So if you’re alone you just have to look through the Glass and carers, friends or relatives will be able to see exactly where you are and come and get you. Or you just tell it to call someone and it rings them.”
Ms Tearse, who was diagnosed in 2008, said: “People would probably say you can do all these things on a smartphone, but actually, with Parkinson’s, negotiating a touch screen is really difficult.
“It’s not just the tremor. During a ‘down time’ when the medication is starting to wear off and you’re waiting for the next lot to kick in it can be like trying to do everything wearing a pair of boxing gloves.
“Your movements are very slow and your body won’t do what you want it to.”
The condition often manifests itself in symptoms such as rigidity, tremors and slowness of movement which affect balance, arm and facial movements and can cause people’s legs to “freeze”.
Led by Dr John Vines, PhD student Roisin McNaney and Dr Ivan Poliakov, the results will be presented at a conference in Canada later this month.
“Glass opens up a new space for exploring the design and development of wearable systems,” said Dr Vines.
“It is very early days - Glass is such new technology we are still learning how it might be used, but the beauty of this research project is we are designing the apps and systems for Glass in collaboration with the users, so the resulting applications should exactly meet their needs.
“What was really encouraging from this early study was how well our volunteers took to the wearable technology, and the fact that they could see the potential in it.
“Technology has the potential to play a central role in the development and improvement of people’s lives.
“The challenge is understanding everyone’s different needs and tailoring that technology so that it makes a real impact on society.”