It’s no secret Apple’s got designs on the Apple Watch being some sort of medical device. It introduced ECG capability on the Series 4, which was also FDA cleared, and then with the Series 5, Apple announced it was launching a series of medical studies for hearing, reproductive health, and mobility and heart health. Now, a newly released patent also hints that Apple might be looking to expand the Watch’s tracking capabilities to include tremors associated with Parkinson’s Disease.
The patent describes using the Watch’s sensors, particularly the accelerometer and gyroscope, to passively track dyskinesia and tremors. (Dyskinesia is defined in the patent as an “uncontrollable and involuntary movement that can resemble twitching, fidgeting, swaying or bobbing.”) Ideally, whatever the sensors detect could then give the user more information about their symptoms, like if they’re worse at a certain time of day, etc. That could be helpful, as Apple notes the current treatment for Parkinson’s disease heavily depends on “how precisely clinicians titrate and schedule the patient’s medications to minimize the patient’s symptoms...” Another issue is that at the moment, the clinical standard for treating Parkinson’s relies on patients self-reporting their symptoms to doctors—a method that isn’t as reliable as it could be.
Interestingly, the patent also notes that tracking tremors doesn’t have to be limited to smartwatches. “In an embodiment,” the patent reads, “the motion sensor can be used in an earpiece that is inserted in the user’s ear or in glasses (e.g., smart glasses) to measure displacement of the user’s head.” The reference to smart glasses is noteworthy, given the many patents, rumors, and reports hinting that Apple may come out with its own AR headset sometime in 2022 or 2023.
As always, just because Apple filed for a patent doesn’t mean this is something we’ll see anytime soon. It may in fact, never see the light of day. That said, it’s clear Apple is interested in expanding its health offerings. Still, medical tech is also a dicey area. To be trusted with any sort of Parkinson’s diagnostic tool, Apple should go through the hurdles of getting FDA clearance or approval—as it did with the Series 4's ECG feature. However, getting that approval can be a lengthy process requiring multiple clinical trials and studies.