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Trial Tests Tablet App to Assess Neuromuscular Performance

Hands with arthritis (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

Biomedical researchers at Harvard University tested a computer tablet application to quickly assess neuromuscular disorders, such as those experienced by older adults. The team from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Institute for Aging Research at Harvard Medical School, with colleagues from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, published their findings online earlier this week in the Journal of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences (paid subscription required).

The clinical study tested the tablet-based software called NeuroAssess with 150 adults in the Boston area, age 21 to 95, divided evenly between males and females. NeuroAssess asks users to follow with a stylus a moving target around a circle on the tablet screen. Software developed at Wyss Institute then measures people’s deviations from the circular path.

The results of the tracing exercise provide a quantitative indicator of neuromotor performance that the researchers then analyzed as a function of age, sex, and handedness. The device, says first author and Wyss Institute staff engineer Leia Stirling is an improvement over current, more subjective methods that describe a patient’s reflexes and cognitive status.

“This new tool may hold great potential to augment existing protocols in a doctor’s neuromotor assessment toolbox,” says Stirling. “It is portable, repeatable, quick to administer, and easy to perform.”

The device’s software measures cognitive functions, such as adaption to changes and the length of pauses when completing the tasks. Performance of these respective compexity and motion fluidity tasks are then calculated into quantitative scores for the physician and patient.

The study shows striking differences in neuromuscular ability between older and younger participants, with older participants  displaying lower complexity and motion fluidity scores than their younger counterparts. The results also show differences in complexity scores between dominant and non-dominant handedness in each age group.

The study provides baseline data among healthy adults for NeuroAssess, with the next stages involving tests of the device among people with neuromuscular conditions, such as concussions or multiple sclerosis. The researchers are now conducting a study with athletes in the Boston area to determine the device’s sensitivity in diagnosing concussions.

The following video demonstrates and tells more about NeuroAssess.

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