Under the Hood

Can EEG Data Help Diagnose Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative nervous system disorder known to affect speech and overall movement, has been plaguing many people for years now, and the number just keeps climbing. According to the Parkinson’s foundation, this number is close to more than 10 million and is spread worldwide.

And unfortunately, there is still no scan that’s been proven to properly diagnose it.

Instead, a health care professional or neurologist will ask a person to carry out certain tasks. These include walking, writing, or even speaking. From these, the neurologist will then assess if a person is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To help with the assessment, a neurologist may also examine a patient’s face and limbs to check for any difficulties with speaking and such.

This makes the current assessment field and methods entirely subjective.

A better way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease

Researchers and health experts have been looking for a more scientific method in detecting and diagnosing Parkinson’s. One such example is the use of EEG, which employs the use of small discs that are attached to the skull to help monitor and record brain wave activities and patterns.

According to Nicole Swann, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the new study and an assistant professor at the University of Oregon's Department of Human Physiology, these brain waves may hold the key to detecting Parkinson’s. Fellow study author Scott Cole, Ph.D., was the first to realize this potential link after the team used EEG readings from 16 healthy individuals and 15 Parkinson’s patients.

Per the findings, the team noticed that patients with Parkinson’s currently not on medication have a sharper peak in their brain waves, which turn out to be significant.

"The raw signals go up and down like sine waves but with more asymmetry. The steepness — the slant — turns out to be important in Parkinson's patients,” explained Swann. "We don't know yet whether this approach will be better, but it could provide easily obtained brain measurements that would be helpful and possibly used in tandem with clinical observations and other EEG measurements."

A bigger study examining EEG data and medical histories is need to corroborate the team’s findings. EEG Researchers found that the amygdala, the region of the brain connected to emotion and face recognition, activates different neurons in autistic patients. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.