British Columbia

Parkinson's app brings together gaming and health care

A new app called Cognitia PD is connecting gamer skills and health care to improve disease management for people with Parkinson’s.

Mini-games test reaction time and working memory to help people manage their Parkinson's disease

The Gift Shop game tests working memory by asking players to recall items from the store. (Helen Goddard/Conquer Mobile)

A new app called Cognitia PD is connecting gamer skills and health care to improve disease management for people with Parkinson's disease.

The app is made up of several mutli-level mini-games and will be distributed to Parkinson's support groups throughout North America. 

Researchers from UBC's Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre are gathering information on players' working memories and reaction times. 

Kathy O’Donoghue (right) of Surrey-based Conquer Mobile is developing a new app to help patients manage Parkinson's disease. Her sister Nancy (left) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago. (Kathy O’Donoghue/Conquer Mobile)

The project began in August following a chance encounter at a Parkinson's fundraiser a few months earlier, where the managing director of Surrey based Conquer Mobile, Kathy O'Donoghue, met the director of UBC's Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre, Dr. Martin McKeown. 

O'Donoghue, whose sister Nancy has had Parkinson's for 10 years, was interested in connecting her game development skills with Parkinson's research. 

"It feels good to build technology for family.  And ... beyond my passion for helping people with Parkinson's, it's really great to see gaming, technology and mobile apps help us solving problems that we face in our everyday lives," said O'Donoghue.

Improvements to patient care

According to Dr. McKeown, one of the key concerns with Parkinson's patients is the monitoring of their symptoms and medication.

He says patients normally meet with a specialist just once a year and the scarcity of professionals in remote areas can amplify that problem. 

The Cognitia PD app aims to reduce this issue by providing physicians with daily or weekly records of a patient's disease progression based on their game play, instead of a once-a-year snapshot. 

"In between visits, if you're playing this game and your health changes, you're not just on your own. You know there's some comfort in the fact that your doctor is monitoring the data once a week or how ever often you play," said O'Donoghue.

Mass distribution

The app developers and researchers are currently sifting through data from their first test of the games at the World Parkinson's Congress in Portland last month, but McKeown says they are also looking for participants with and without Parkinson's to sign up to use the app. 

"This is becoming an increasingly important area in Parkinson's. I think we've always known that we needed to be able to monitor people over time. I think the problem is that the technology just wasn't there to enable us to do this," said McKeown.

O'Donoghue and McKeown say they are working on a few more games to test other functions and plan to have the app available across all platforms soon. 

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