2 posts tagged “measuring disease progression”

The Ups and Downs of Parkinson’s Disease

Posted February 5th, 2013 by

We are all too aware that Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive illness, with tremors, difficulty walking and other symptoms usually getting worse over time.  Here at PatientsLikeMe, and in the clinic, that progression is measured with the Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (PDRS). Although you can never really simplify a whole disease down to a few numbers, having that numerical description helps your health care team track your disease and how you are doing over the long haul.

But if you or a loved one has PD, you know that a decline over time is only part of the story. You probably have good days and bad days, depending on all kinds of factors. Understanding those ups and downs is also big part of living with PD. It may also be a big part of treating it.

A Sample PDRS Chart Showing Ups and Downs in Disease Progression

In collaboration with PatientsLikeMe’s Paul Wicks and MIT’s Max Little and Alex Pentland, I have been studying those ups and downs. In our freely available paper recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, we explored mathematically the dynamics of the PDRS. (If you love math, this is the paper for you!)

One of the most important things we found is that these random fluctuations seen in many patients are large enough that they can be considered “clinically meaningful” – just as big as those long-term progression changes that doctors and nurses consider when they think about what treatments may be best for you. So, it is especially important for your team to know how you’ve been doing over the last few weeks, and not just today.

Knowing your own ups and downs may help you figure out your best possible treatment plan. We also hope that by studying the data shared by lots of people like you, we can understand PD better, which will ultimately lead to better treatments for everyone. As always, thanks for sharing!

p.s. For those of you keeping up, yes, the Max Little mentioned above is the very same applied mathematician we’ve partnered with to help advance his groundbreaking research at the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative.  Don’t miss this recent CNN profile of Max’s exciting project, which is based on the theory that the voice (as recorded via a simple phone call) can be used as a biomarker for PD progression.

PatientsLikeMe member tvaughan


Know Thyself. Quantify Thyself.

Posted August 13th, 2012 by

Are you someone who likes to track things about yourself?  For example, do you keep an exercise log of how many reps you did – or a food journal that details what (and how much) you consumed?  Do you monitor your health and disease progression at PatientsLikeMe?

Quantified Self

If so, you might not know it, but you are part of the growing Quantified Self (QS) movement.  Also known as “Body Data” and “Life Hacking,” the QS movement was started by Wired magazine editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in 2007.  The idea is to increase self knowledge through self tracking.  More specifically, QSers use technology to record data on various aspects of human life, from “inputs” (food, air) to “states” (moods, blood oxygen levels ) to “performance” (mental, physical).

The hub of the movement is http://quantifiedself.com/, an online community where QSers can share their methods and learn from what others are doing.  In addition, QSers get together face-to-face for regular Show&Tell meetings in various cities around the world as well as an annual conference, which takes place this September in Palo Alto, California.  According to the website, the conference is a “working meeting” for users and tool makers looking to collaborate on self-tracking projects and explore the potential effects of self-tracking on society.

Larry Smarr, Founding Director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and Professor of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at the University of California at San Diego.  Photo Credit: Grant Delin, The Atlantic.

For many QSers, such as astrophysicist-turned-computer scientist Larry Smarr, self-tracking conveys huge benefits.  According to this fascinating profile in The Atlantic entitled “The Measured Man,” Smarr sees it as a tool for battling obesity, defeating incurable diseases (in his case, Crohn’s disease) and revolutionizing healthcare.  He’s got a good reason, too:  this is a man who monitored his own blood work and detected an inflammatory state in his body long before his first Crohn’s symptom appeared.   While some people feel that with enough data every person could find something wrong with their health, Smarr argues that it’s far better to detect that something’s “beginning to go wrong” and seek “preventative maintenance,” just like you would with an automobile.

It’s a striking analogy.  Could we as human beings extend our lives – just as we extend the lives of our cars – through data tracking and “tune-ups”?  It’s one of the big questions at the heart of the QS movement.  But as far as we’re concerned here at PatientsLikeMe, self knowledge – as well as shared knowledge – is always a good thing.  That’s why we’ve developed tools to help you measure your disease progression (e.g. our Multiple Sclerosis Rating Scale), track how your treatments impact your quality of life, monitor over 200 lab results (e.g. Vitamin D, cholesterol, PSA levels) and record how you are feeling day-to-day (our InstantMe survey).  Better yet, we help you share that data with other patients like you, so that everyone benefits and learns.

What do you think?  Has “quantifying yourself” led to any breakthroughs for you?