Experts reveal symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

A first warning sign of Parkinson’s disease may not be the tell-tale muscle stiffness, tremors and balance problems, experts claim, DailyMail reports.

Instead, altered speech may strike before these other hallmark symptoms, say researchers in Lithuania.

More than ten million people worldwide are thought to have the condition, including Michael J. Fox, Billy Connolly and Jeremy Paxman.

Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of nerve cells in an area of the brain responsible for producing dopamine, which helps coordinate body movement.

It gets worse over time as more cells die, with sufferers eventually left struggling to complete day-to-day tasks.

But as motor activity decreases, so does the function of the vocal cords, diaphragm, and lungs, experts now say.

A data scientist at Kaunas University of Technology, Rytis Maskeliūnas, said, “Changes in speech often occur even earlier than motor function disorders.”

He added that this is “why the altered speech might be the first sign of the disease.”

Professor Virgilijus Ulozas, involved in the same study, said patients with early-stage Parkinson’s might speak in a quieter manner.

He said this can also be monotonous, less expressive, slower, and more fragmented, and can be very difficult to notice by ear.

Charities estimate approximately 145,000 people in the UK and 500,000 in the US have Parkinson’s.

Symptoms, such as muscle stiffness, often only appear when about 80 per cent of the nerve cells have been lost.

No tests can conclusively show someone has Parkinson’s, however.

But catching it early can lead to controlling the disease quicker, according to leading neurologists.

The Lithuanian team are now working to find a way of spotting Parkinson’s earlier, potentially through a mobile app.

Professor Maskeliūnas said the link between Parkinson’s and speech abnormalities has been clear since the 1960s, but technological advances have made this easier to analyse.

The researchers used AI to study speech samples of 61 patients with Parkinson’s and 43 healthy volunteers.

In a soundproof booth, a microphone was used to record the speech of both groups.

An AI algorithm was used to process the recordings and analyse any differences.

“We are not creating a substitute for a routine examination of the patient – our method is designed to facilitate early diagnosis of the disease and to track the effectiveness of treatment,” the professor said.

They plan to expand the study to find out whether this could be the best way of diagnosing Parkinson’s early.

SOURCE: PUNCH

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