King’s speech and language therapy patients are working closely with the University of Portsmouth to help develop a mobile phone app. The recruited patients – all of whom have Parkinson’s disease – have been helping to develop the iPhone app with the university’s Department of Creative Technologies.

Parkinson’s affects more than 120,000 people in the UK and occurs when there is not enough dopamine in specific areas within the brain. King’s is one of the biggest centres for Parkinson’s disease in the world, currently treating around 1,000 patients.

The main symptoms of Parkinson’s are tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement and one of the effects of this is the muscles in the throat becoming very rigid. This in turn affects the vocal chords and often unbeknown to the patient, their speech becomes increasingly quiet. The new app aims to monitor voice levels – taking into consideration the background noise – and alert patients when their speech is too quiet.

King’s specialist Prof Ray Chaudhuri who is also the professor of one of the twelve International Parkinson’s Foundation Centres of Excellence, said: “This novel app is being developed by our Parkinson’s patients for Parkinson’s patients across the UK as part of a project led by our speech and language therapy department. So far, the patient input has been instrumental in helping to shape the visual displays and to ensure the app is user-friendly for patients with Parkinson’s.”

The second stage of the three stage development of the iPhone app starts in February. The third and final stage of development will be with more King’s patients who will be given a handheld device with the app to try out as part of their daily lives for one to two weeks.

Dr Roger Eglin from the University of Portsmouth, who was successful in obtaining the £35,000 innovation grant from Parkinson’s UK to develop the app, said: “If we’re successful, we hope to develop useful mobile phone based applications which can help people with Parkinson’s who experience speech difficulties – helping them to communicate better with their families and friends and increasing their confidence in social situations.”