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Computer Keyboard Interaction as an Indicator of Early Parkinsonís Disease

Researchers have developed a new approach to early detection of Parkinson’s disease (PD) using a computer keyboard in non-clinical settings. They found that by measuring ‘key hold’ time – how long it takes to press and release a key on a standard QWERTY keyboard – it is possible to detect early symptoms of PD. The results were published in the October 5 online edition of Scientific Reports.

The most common early movement symptoms of PD are tremor and rigidity. They often first appear as walking difficulties or decreased facial expressions. People involved in sports also notice a decrease in coordination. Currently, the only way to diagnose the disease and track these symptoms over time is through observation and use of the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS).

While the UPDRS is a valuable tool, many people with early PD may go undiagnosed for long periods of time and miss the opportunity to receive early treatment.

A team of researchers led by Luca Giancardo, Ph.D., at MIT linQ (a partnership between the Madrid–MIT M+Visión Consortium by Comunidad de Madrid and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), developed a computer program that can detect the early symptoms of PD during the normal use of a basic home computer. The program uses computer ‘key hold’ times to measure movement and detect patterns consistent with PD.

The researchers pilot-tested the program in 85 people, including 42 who were already diagnosed with PD and 43 controls without PD. The PD group was further subdivided into two groups: 24 people with PD who had never received medication and had been diagnosed on average 1.6 years earlier, and 18 people who had had taken medication to treat their symptoms and had been diagnosed on average 3.9 years earlier. For the purposes of this study, participants did not take any PD medications for at least 18 hours prior to keyboard testing. Results from the key hold test were compared with two widely-used PD diagnostic tests – alternating finger tapping and single key tapping. Both of these tests are part of the UPDRS.


  • When compared to PD severity measurements from the UPDRS, the key hold test was as accurate as UPDRS in assessing people with Parkinson’s.
  • The key hold computer test was just as accurate, and in some cases more effective, in detecting the early signs of PD, than two other keyboard tests.
  • A person’s age, gender or typing ability were all taken into account when analyzing the data.

What Does It Mean?

Although formal diagnosis of PD requires a medical expert, new methods are emerging to detect early signs and symptoms outside of clinical settings. Over 70 percent of adults aged 65 and older have computers at home, and most people in the US use at least one digital device on a regular basis.

While the results of this study are promising, a clinical evaluation was still superior to these instruments. The key hold test is also not yet available for wide-scale use. However, if further testing demonstrates its effectiveness at identifying early PD, it has the potential to make early diagnosis possible for large numbers of people. Early diagnosis of PD means that early treatment is an option – an option associated with fewer injuries, increased survival and more independence. In addition, earlier diagnosis may also be important to test new compounds that could possibly slow or stop PD altogether.

Learn More

Do you have additional questions about how Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed? Learn more by accessing PDF’s free resources below or contacting our National HelpLine at (800) 457-6676 or with any additional questions.

Reference: Giancardo L, Sanchez-Ferro Am Arroyo-Gallego T, et al. (2016) Computer keyboard interaction as an early indicator of early Parkinson’s disease. Scientific Reports 2016 (6): 1-9. DOI:

Source Date: Dec 08 2016