Prof. Sara Rosenblum, of the University of Haifa's Department of Occupational Therapy, said that identifying the changes in handwriting could lead to an early diagnosis of the illness and neurological intervention at a critical moment.
Studies from recent years show that there are unique and distinctive differences between the handwriting of patients with Parkinson's disease and that of healthy people. However, most studies that to date have focused on handwriting focused on motor skills and not on writing that involves cognitive abilities, such as signing a check, copying addresses, etc.
According to Prof. Rosenblum, Parkinson's patients report feeling a change in their cognitive abilities before detecting a change in their motor abilities and therefore a test of cognitive impairment like the one performed in this study could attest to the presence of the disease and offer a way to diagnose it earlier.
In the research, which was conducted in cooperation with Dr. Ilana Schlesinger, head of the Center for Movement Disorders and Parkinson's Disease at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center and occupational therapists working in the hospital, the subjects were asked to write their names and gave them addresses to copy, two everyday tasks that require cognitive abilities.
Participants were 40 adults with at least 12 years of schooling, half healthy and half known to be in the early stages of Parkinson's disease.
It was found that the Parkinson's disease patients wrote smaller letters ("micrograph"), exerted less pressure on the writing surface, and took more time to complete the task. According to Prof. Rosenblum a particularly noticeable difference was the length of time the pen was in the air between the writing of each letter and each word.
"This finding is particularly important because while the patient holds the pen in the air, his mind is planning his next action in the writing process, and the need for more time reflects the subject's reduced cognitive ability. Changes in handwriting can occur years before a clinical diagnosis and therefore can be an early signal of the approaching disease," Rosenblum said.
The study is published in the journal of the European Neurological Society.