AbilityNet Factsheet - January 2019

Parkinson's and Technology

Parkinson's is a progressive neurological condition. This means that it causes problems in the brain and gets worse over time. Most people who develop Parkinson’s are over 50 but younger people can develop it too. Parkinson’s develops when cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time.

There are three main symptoms - tremor (shaking), slowness of movement and rigidity (muscle stiffness) - but there are many other symptoms too. This factsheet offers a summary of the difficulties people with Parkinson’s may experience when using their computers, along with information about the adjustments that can make their devices easier to use.

With thanks to our charity colleagues at Parkinson’s UK for reviewing our Parkinson’s and Technology factsheet prior to publication.

Last updated: January 2019

1. What is Parkinson’s?

There’s around 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK. The condition is a progressive neurological condition where nerve cells in the brain responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine start to die. Although dopamine is responsible for a number of things, in this instance it is the role it plays in controlling movement that is key, because as the dopamine levels get lower, the impact on movement and muscle control becomes more pronounced. Idiopathic Parkinson’s is the main form of the condition although there are other lesser known diseases such as atypical Parkinson’s or Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP).

The three main symptoms of Parkinson's are tremor, stiffness and slowness of movement. But people may also experience other symptoms including problems with sleep, memory and mental health issues.

2. How can tech help?

Technology such as computers, tablets and smartphones offer a great deal to people with Parkinson’s:

  • Keyboards can be adjusted to reduce the chance of hitting multiple keys when you type
  • If you use a pointing device (a mouse) on your computer, you can slow it down so it is easier to control as well as making the pointer more visible on the screen
  • If you have issues with “clicking the mouse” you can slow down the double-click speed and there is also software available to automate the clicks
  • There are a great deal of alternatives to ‘standard’ keyboards and mice that may be more comfortable or easier to use
  • If you find it difficult to use your hands and arms to operate a device, most devices now have voice control built in
  • You can adjust many newer touchscreen devices so that the screen is less sensitive, requiring you to “hold” your finger on the screen before you get a reaction from the device.  There is also functionality built in to help you if you find “tapping” to launch apps difficult or if you find your device is picking up involuntary taps
  • Smart home devices now make it easier to control your home environment, enabling you to control lights, plugs, heating and many more devices just using your voice

Software support

  • Speech-to-text (dictation) software offers a rapid means of getting ideas onto the page, often much faster than typing and is a good way to reduce typos. It can also offer an alternative method of controlling your device.
  • Word prediction will enable you to reduce the amount you need to type.  With word prediction, you type the first few characters of a word and the software will give you a number of suggestions.  Most smartphones will do this by default.

If you have a tablet or smartphone device there are several “reminder apps” and apps to help you organise your life more effectively. If you have issues with communicating your needs, there are several packages which can “give you” a voice. You can store phrases that you use on a regular basis and access them quickly whenever you need them.

  • If you find communication difficult there are a number of speech therapy apps that may be able to offer you some support.
  • If you are experiencing anxiety there are also some useful apps that can help with mindfulness and stress relief.

3. Useful contacts

4. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.


Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

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