The ‘first sign’ of Parkinson’s before tremors or muscle stiffness

Parkinson's: What is it and what are the symptoms?

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Researchers have pointed out the “first sign of the disease” that “often” occurs before the loss of motor function skills, such as tremors and muscle stiffness. According to Rytis Maskeliūnas, alongside his colleagues at the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU), “changes in speech” could be revealing. “Changes in speech often occur even earlier than motor function disorders,” Maskeliūnas said.

“Which is why the altered speech might be the first sign of the disease.”

Professor Virgilijus Ulozas, at the Department of Ear, Nose, and Throat at the LSMU Faculty of Medicine, noted that patients with early-stage Parkinson’s might speak in a quiet manner.

The tone could be monotonous, less expressive, slower, and more fragmented – but more difficult to notice by ear.

Researcher Maskeliūnas added: “We are not creating a substitute for a routine examination of the patient.

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“Our method is designed to facilitate early diagnosis of the disease and to track the effectiveness of treatment.”

Using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse and assess speech signals, a Parkinson’s diagnosis may be made in seconds.

In a soundproof booth, a microphone was used to record the speech of healthy and Parkinson’s patients.

Another research member, lecturer Kipras Pribuišis, said: “So far, our approach is able to distinguish Parkinson’s from healthy people using a speech sample.”

Researcher Maskeliūnas stated: “Our results… have a very high scientific potential.

“Sure, there is still a long and challenging way to go before it can be applied in everyday clinical practice.”

The research team hope to increase their sample size to gather more data as to whether the proposed AI algorithm is superior to alternative methods of Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Moreover, it will be necessary to check whether the AI algorithm would work well in the doctor’s office, or a patient’s home, in addition to laboratory-like settings.

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Parkinson’s symptoms

The leading charity Parkinson’s UK highlighted the early signs of the neurodegenerative condition.

“Sleep and night-time problems are common in Parkinson’s,” the charity notes, adding this could be caused by tremors, stiffness, pain, and restless leg syndrome.

Another possible indication of the condition is losing your sense of smell, which can “start years before other symptoms develop”.

Due to the changes in the brain, a person who has Parkinson’s could start to have smaller and smaller handwriting.

This is because “people with Parkinson’s can find that their movements become smaller and less forceful than before”.

There could be signs of an overactive bladder, which requires more frequent trips to the bathroom during the night, and having a sense of urgency.

A gradual struggle with co-ordination, or gaining a shuffling walk, can be a telling sign of Parkinson’s.

As for speech changes, the research study by LSMU suggested that when the disease progresses, voice changes can include hoarseness, stuttering, slurred pronunciation, and a loss of pauses between words.

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