Parkinson's disease is characterized by the loss of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Parts of this region are responsible for the control of habits and skills, and new evidence shows that dopamine loss begins in these areas. Our work studying errors in skilled movements has focused on typing. We are particular interested in a kind of error called an "action slip" where an over-learnt, habitual action intrudes on what you intend to do.
Our theory is that the onset of Parkinson's could be detected by a decrease in the frequency of action-slip errors in typing.
We will use key-logging software and recruit small groups of people with early-stage Parkinson's and matched control participants. After asking our participants to perform some typing, we will analyze the number and type of errors made. Like other movement disorders, Parkinson's patients should make more typing errors overall, but our theory predicts fewer of these action slip errors.
Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:
If our theory is correct, by gathering large amounts of data from individuals we could develop a highly sensitive test that may allow earlier diagnosis of Parkinson's. Earlier diagnosis may help researchers better understand the disease and develop new therapies, while also allowing physicians to intervene with treatments at an earlier stage.
Next Steps for Development:
The study will provide a rich preliminary dataset to analyze the skilled movements of people with Parkinson's. If we are successful in finding differences between those with and without Parkinson's, the next steps will be to confirm that these are reliable in a study using more people and to refine the analyses we use to identify these differences.