Vibrating Pen to Help Parkinson’s Patients Write
When someone develops Parkinson’s disease, it affects their physical movement, slowing their movements, stiffening their muscles, and tremors. Another possible symptom is something called Micrographia.
This condition is characterised by the patient’s handwriting becoming smaller and smaller, as well as more cramped, as they write, to the point where the writing is no longer legible. And because of the thinness of a regular ballpoint pen, just holding the writing implement can be difficult and painful. As you can imagine, the tremors won’t make it easy for a Parkinson’s patient to write either.
Suffering from Parkinson’s isn’t something a person can really imagine. A team of students from the Royal College of Art and the Imperial College London wanted to create something that would show people without the condition what it was like trying to write with the condition.
They developed a special pen, called the Arc Pen, which had motors inside that caused the pen to vibrate at different frequencies.
“We heard stories of how frustrating it was for people who were still working,” said team leader and project designer Lucy Jung. “Or who wanted to write a card, sign documents – anything that had to do with writing.”
The team, called Dopa Solution, were also looking into possible ways of combating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. So, when it was found that the pen helped people write larger and clearer, they knew they were onto something.
When the vibrations in the pen were set to a specific frequency, the vibrations would stimulate key muscles in the hand, which was behind the increased legibility of handwriting. After testing out the pen on 14 people with Parkinson’s and Micrographia, the pen was found to improve 86% of their writing.
Even after the pen was no longer vibrating, the study participants’ writing stayed larger and clearer than it had been before using the Arc Pen. At the moment, it isn’t known how long this effect lasts, but more tests are being carried out to find out.
The pen is still in the testing stages, with Dopa Solution hoping to get sponsorship to help further its development. The team is also looking into working the technology in other tools for Parkinson’s patients, such as computer mice and makeup brushes.
With conditions like Parkinson’s disease, if can be a struggle for patients to have to give up their independence. But products like the Arc Pen, and whatever Dopa Solution has to offer in the future, are helping to give a little bit of it back.