Image: The NeuroAssess app in use on a tablet device (Photo courtesy of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering).
A novel computer tablet application can rapidly and quantitatively assess neuromuscular performance for monitoring concussions, aging, and neurological function.
The new application, dubbed NeuroAssess, was developed by researchers at Harvard University (Harvard, Boston, MA, USA) and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC, Boston, MA, USA). The app tracks hand-eye coordination by patients that use a stylus to follow a moving target around a circle. As the person performs the tracing task, proprietary computer algorithms measure deviations from the circular path. When analyzed as a function of age, sex, and handedness, the app algorithm can generate a number, or score, that shows differences in performance between various individuals or conditions.
Whereas current methods to assess neuromuscular function include subjective descriptions of a patient's reflexes and cognitive status, the tracing tool could add a slew of new information. For example, doctors can record a score for complexity, which relates to how well a person can adapt to changes, or motion fluidity, which relates to how long the patient pauses during the task. A study that used the app to collect baseline data from 150 healthy people from the Boston (MA, USA) area, aged 21 to 95, revealed, for example, that older subjects have lower complexity and motion fluidity scores.
The next goal of the researchers is to determine the potential of the device to become a quantitative assessment tool for groups of people with neuromuscular pathologies, such as those who suffered concussions or have multiple sclerosis. A study with athletes in the Boston area is already being conducted to determine the sensitivity of the technology in diagnosing concussions. The study was published ahead of print on February 5, 2013, in the Journal of Gerontology: Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
“This new tool may hold great potential to augment existing protocols in a doctor's neuromotor assessment toolbox. It is portable, repeatable, quick to administer, and easy to perform,” said study lead author senior staff engineer Leia Stirling, PhD, of the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. “One day it might sit next to the thermometer and pressure cuff in the doctor's office. Just as your blood pressure is recorded during every visit, so could your neuromuscular score be tracked over time to determine progress through recovery and rehabilitation.”
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center