Smartphone apps for those living with Parkinson's disease

Digital platforms are now used for an array of healthcare purposes. Electronic medical records software, for example, enables physicians to better manage patient health information, while medical billing software helps administrators with the financial side of the process. Meanwhile, technologies such as pedometers, patient portals and smartphone or tablet apps empower patients to take greater control over the management of their own health. Apps, in particular, now address a range of concerns, from healthy eating to exercise. There are also many apps that focus on the management of chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer and depression.

Parkinson's disease, a degenerative illness impacting the nervous system, is another condition that is addressed via a range of smartphone apps. Here, we'll provide a breakdown of some of the most effective Parkinson's apps currently available. 

A closer look at Parkinson's disease
A condition that progresses and worsens over a period of many years, Parkinson's disease affects the central nervous system, and is characterized by symptoms such as stiffness, problems with movement and tremors, the Mayo Clinic detailed. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's, although patients are able to take medications to manage symptoms and improve daily life. 

The disease occurs due to the breakdown of cells in the brain known as neurons, the Mayo Clinic explained. The symptoms themselves result from the depletion of a chemical known as dopamine. The levels of this important chemical drop in Parkinson's patients because the neurons needed to produce it are damaged or dead. Researchers are unsure of a definitive reason why people develop Parkinson's disease, although there is evidence that exposure to environmental toxins may play a role, as well as genetic factors. The Parkinson's Disease Foundation estimates that around 1 million individuals across the U.S. live with the condition.

In terms of symptoms, the Mayo Clinic explained that signs of the condition tend to worsen over time. Often, the symptoms are so mild at first that individuals may not notice that anything is wrong. Some of the most common signs include: Problems with movement, shaking or tremors - primarily in the hands, difficulty with balance, issues with writing and speech and painful muscle stiffness. These symptoms will vary for each patient in terms of intensity. Not all patients will experience all of these symptoms.

As mentioned, medications can help control symptoms. They work primarily by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. In some cases surgery may be recommended. An article from Healthline included a quote from a neurologist, Dr. Edward Wolpow, who explained how regular exercise, both of the mind and brain, can also be an effective way to mitigate the impact of symptoms. The Mayo Clinic added that antidepressants and other psychiatric medications can also be taken to regulate the emotional side effects - patients with Parkinson's are much more likely to develop depression, for example. It should be stressed, however, that none of the treatment options stop the progression of the disease itself. 

Helpful apps for Parkinson's patients
In addition to taking medication and exercising regularly, those with Parkinson's may find attending a support group helpful. As detailed, there are numerous smartphone applications that can help make daily life more manageable. Here is a guide to a select few:

1. Parkinson's Central
This platform comes courtesy of the National Parkinson Foundation. Available from both Google Play and for the iPhone, this platform has a number of helpful features, according to the NPF website. For example, users can use the Parkinson's Central app to learn about insurance and financing issues, as well as how to best life daily life with the condition. For example, there is information about diet, exercise and medications. There is also a helpful feature that functions as a kind of directory of resources - if patient A wants to be connected with a local support group, for example, Parkinson's Central can help. This tool isn't just for patients - there is information for caregivers too. 

2. Beats Medical Parkinson's Treatment App
As detailed by App Picker, this app is geared toward symptom management. There is one feature that provides exercises that can help users improve issues with speech and language, while another modality allows individuals to follow a training exercise designed to improve coordination and hand dexterity. Users can keep up to date on their progress thanks to reports with feedback. The app is free to download and is available for the iPad and iPhone. 

3. Medication Tracker
One of the primary means of Parkinson's management is adherence to a medication regimen. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember to take pills at certain times, especially if an individual is taking multiple forms of medication. As explained in an article from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, this is where medication tracking apps can help. The source recommended two apps - Medication Tracker, which is available for the iPhone, and Medication Log, which is compatible with Android. Both tools are self-explanatory - they help users to keep on top of their daily medication schedule with helpful reminders.

4. Parkinson Home Exercises
This easy to use tool provides users with detailed instructions on a number of exercises - 50, to be precise - all of which help Parkinson's patients improve common symptoms, Parkinson's Life reported. For example, some exercises are designed to help with poor balance and gait, while others target walking and flexibility. All of the exercises are demonstrated via video. Parkinson Home Exercises is available for both iPhone and Android. There is a small download fee. 

5. Peak - Brain Training
It is important for those with Parkinson's to exercise their mind as well as their bodies. That is why the Peak - Brain Training app is so helpful. According to App Picker, this platform has 30 games designed to help users improve areas of cognition such as memory, attention and problem solving. Developed by neuroscientists, app is free to download, with the option to upgrade for a fee.

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

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