“Maybe Mom Was Right”

Chris Tobias

If as a child, your Mom ever dragged you into the doctor’s office because you “just weren’t yourself,” then you have probably felt the embarrassment of having your private life suddenly exposed to the harsh glare of a medical spotlight.

As it turns out though (and as she always said), Mom may have been right. Subtle changes in a person’s sleep patterns, moods and activities can signal changes in health long before those changes actually become serious medical conditions.

If you only visited a doctor once or twice a year, it would be difficult for your physician to see these subtle changes. But your Mom who saw you every day noticed and took action.  Mom had mountains of information about your habits, movements and preferences stored away in her parent file, downloadable from her memory banks 24/7.

Now we are grown up. Life has changed. We’ve left home and Mom behind.

We have jobs, homes of our own and numerous new electronic gadgets.  Smart phones, wearable fitness monitors and even tennis shoes with sensors built into them. Fun to own and fun to play with!

These devices sense our movements and record enormous amounts of information about us. If you carry a smart phone in your pocket or purse, the phone can measure your walking gait as you move and report not only on the number of steps you have taken, but also the swing of those steps. The swing is the speed, angle and shape of your walking movement. If you wear a fitness band on your wrist, that band may be able to measure the swing of your arm, the beat of your pulse and many other minute-by-minute indicators of your movements and health.

Taken by themselves, walking gait and swing measurements, or arm motion data, don’t mean much. But if your phone or wristband is connected to a secure, cloud data collection system, then streams of personal health data can be reviewed and analyzed for subtle changes.

Just like Mom did every day when you were a kid.

Do you know if your walking gait has changed over the past six months? Have your arm movements slowed down or become less fluid? Early signs of disease like Parkinson’s disease can include changes in sleep patterns and changes in body movements such as rigid walking and arm tremors. These can all be sensed and analyzed by wearable devices. You and your physician could even receive electronic warnings if persistent changes in your data triggered a warning from the computer system that monitored your motions. The electronic warnings are the same as Mom taking you to the doctor’s office and saying “Something’s just not right.”

There is a growing body of evidence that says personal data analysis can not only help to detect disease, but may also help to prevent it.

For example, there are studies that show that lack of sleep or poor sleep patterns may contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  These studies also suggest that better sleep habits can help reduce the impact or timing of Alzheimer’s.

A wearable fitness band with sleep tracking capability can tell you (and your physician) about your sleep patterns over time.  Add in some analytic software to track sleep improvements and you have a personal assistant to help you reduce or avoid the disease.

As the volume of health data available about each one of us grows, sophisticated computer analytics may help uncover subtle changes in health and recommend improvements. Your smart phone, wristband and shoe sensors are more than just toys…

They might be Mom’s new helper in making sure you stay healthy all of your life.

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