A spoon that uses stabilization technology to keep food from spilling may make eating easier for seniors who struggle with tremors due to Parkinson’s and other diseases.

Technology start-up, Lift Labs, has designed a multipurpose handle imbued with special sensors that detect an individual’s tremor and uses built-in motors to steady the attached spoon head by moving it in the opposite direction. Dubbed “Liftware” by its creators, the system promises to help older adults with unsteady hands maintain their ability to feed themselves.

“After speaking with many neurologists, I learned that there aren’t that many solutions for people with Essential Tremor (ET) and Parkinson’s,” says Anupam Pathak, Ph.D., Lift Labs’ CEO.

This revelation led Pathak and his colleagues to seek out the true experts in how tremors can effect an individual’s day-to-day life—the patients and their caregivers. “Our team has many family members with tremor (due to various causes), and over time we have also become close with the people in the local support groups who have helped us develop Liftware.”

Movement disorders impact daily life

Parkinson’s and ET are two of the most prevalent movement disorders in the elderly population, affecting an estimated one million and five million Americans, respectively. Advancing age increases an individual’s risk of being diagnosed with either ailment.

Though tremors top the list of symptoms of each disease, there are differences in where and when the lack of limb control will strike.

So-called “resting tremors” are just one of the movement issues connected to Parkinson’s—a list which also includes muscle stiffness, balance troubles, bradykinesia (slowing down of reflexes and voluntary movements), and problems with walking and speech.

Resting tremors occur when an individual is sitting still or standing in one spot, and tend to get better with movement. They also often originate in the hands, according to Ariane Park, M.D., a movement disorder neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Park points out the profound effect these tremors can have on a person’s regular routine, saying “People use their hands for activities of daily living such as dressing, eating and bathing. Having a tremor, on top of the slowness of movement, can make these activities much more difficult.”

In contrast, people suffering from ET find their symptoms become more pronounced with movement or emotional stress, and often subside when they are at rest.

The Liftware system was recently found to reduce the effects of mild to moderate tremors by more than 70 percent in a small group of participants, according to a study presented at the 2013 American Academy of Neurology conference.

Will it work?

Coping with the challenges presented by Parkinson’s and ET is an ongoing battle for caregivers and their loved ones.

Tremors can sometimes be managed with medications, but Park says that, when it comes to Parkinson’s, not every person responds positively to prescription intervention. Specially-designed braces may help stabilize some sufferer’s limbs, but the tradeoff is that these devices can be bulky and uncomfortable.

Additional issues associated with the disease (sleep troubles, mood swings and cognitive problems) are often less responsive to medicinal intervention, requiring the implementation of other techniques, such as physical and occupational therapy, and devices to diminish the negative effects of different symptoms.

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In addition to the stabilization device—which costs $295 and will soon feature attachments for keys, as well as other eating utensils—Lift Labs has also created two free smartphone apps, Lift Stride and Lift Pulse, which can be found on Google Play and iTunes.

Lift Stride provides auditory cues to people with Parkinson’s to help them walk. The program was inspired by one of Pathak’s friends who used a metronome device to prevent him from shuffling while he walked. Though the metronome enabled the man walk with greater ease, his wife lamented the loud ticking noise it made. The app enables the user to wear headphones so they are the only ones who can hear the gait-helping cadence.

Lift Pulse employs the accelerometers in a person’s phone to track tremors caused by ET. By allowing users to log information about their medications and activity, the app helps pinpoint the factors that affect an individual’s tremor.

While she declined to comment on the effectiveness of Lift Labs’ particular offerings, in response to whether such interventions might be useful, Park says, “If a patient wanted to see if it was helpful, I see no contradiction in doing so.”

What do you think—could a stabilizing spoon or key holder allow your loved one to deal more effectively with their tremors? What strategies do you use to help them cope with daily challenges?