#ECTRIMS2022 – Smartphone Tap Speed May Help in Monitoring MS

Slower tapping on keyboard linked to worse MS disability in new study

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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A speaker addresses a host of individual audience members at the ECTRIMS conference.

Tap speed — or how quickly one types on a smartphone keyboard — may be a useful tool for monitoring multiple sclerosis (MS) severity and detecting the transition to a progressive form of the disease, according to new research data.

Results demonstrated that slower tapping speeds were linked to worse clinical measures of disease in MS patients. Specifically, individuals who tap at a lesser speed were found to have worse disability, poorer dexterity and walking abilities, and lower cognitive function.

Also, patients with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) — typically a later disease course — had slower tapping speeds than individuals with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).

The findings were presented by Juan Luis Chico-Garcia, MD, of the Hospital Ramón y Cajal in Spain, at the 38th Congress of the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS), held Oct. 26–28 in Amsterdam and virtually. 

His oral presentation was titled “Tapping speed in smartphone is useful for detection of progressive multiple sclerosis.”

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Using smartphones to monitor MS

Tapping speed is “a passive measurement [that] can be useful for multiple sclerosis patients and for monitoring,” Chico-Garcia said, adding that it “may also be helpful to detect progressive [courses] of the disease.”

It’s increasingly recognized that smartphones can be used as a way to monitor patients with MS and other neurodegenerative diseases. Such approaches can serve as a more frequent supplement to clinical visits that may only happen once or twice a year.

Smartphones have been used for a range of purposes in MS patients over recent years. These include tracking physical activity and sleep, allowing patients to log symptoms and medication use, and monitoring cognitive function. Overall, such devices have helped clinicians and researchers to evaluate disease progression.

Now, Chico-Garcia and his colleagues conducted a pilot study to evaluate whether smartphone keyboard tapping speed is feasible for monitoring MS severity among patients.

The study included a total of 50 patients — 62% of them women — with a median age of 44.5. All had been seen at a comprehensive MS care center in Spain. Most participants (80%) had RRMS, while 12% had SPMS and 8% had primary progressive MS.

Their median score on the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) was 2, reflecting minimal disability, and most participants (82%) were using disease-modifying therapies at the time of the analyses.

Tapping speed, or the number of keys pressed per second, was passively monitored over one week using a smartphone app developed by the researchers.

The data were then compared with clinical measures of disease, including disability level, hand dexterity, mobility and leg function, and cognitive performance. These all were assessed with validated clinical measures, including, respectively, the EDSS, the 9-hole peg test, the timed 25-foot walk test, and the processing speed test.

Overall, tapping speeds on the smartphone were correlated with all of these clinical tests, with a slower tap speed generally linked to greater disability, worse upper and lower limb function, and poorer cognitive function.

Although the correlation was weaker than that observed for other clinical measures, tapping speeds also were associated with a longer disease duration — patients who had been living with MS for a longer time had a lower tap speed.

Finally, the team found that people with SPMS typed slower than those with RRMS. Chico-Garcia noted that additional studies are underway to further explore differences in typing patterns across MS types.

Overall, the findings highlight the usefulness of smartphone tapping speed as an easy way of monitoring disease severity and progression. Tap speed also could be used to identify when patients have moved to a progressive phase of disease from a relapsing one, Chico-Garcia noted.

Note: The Multiple Sclerosis News Today team is providing in-depth coverage of the ECTRIMS Forum 2022 Oct. 26-28. Go here to see the latest stories from the conference.

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