By Stephanie John
CBS San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Solving one of the most puzzling problems of Parkinson’s disease could come down to a device that looks very much like a smart watch.

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It’s an easy-to-use gadget that holds a complicated algorithm.

In 2004, Diane Pelosi Harrington was raising her kids and running a non-profit when a neurologist confirmed she had Parkinson’s Disease. At only 52, she had to start taking medication.

“After 12 years, I’m heavily dependent on the medicines that are available, and they have side effects,” Harrington explained. “You start having anything from dyskinesias, which are unwanted movements of the arms, the legs, or freezing, what I call freezing, or on/off.”

Like many Parkinson’s patients, Harrington is finding balancing different medications has become more difficult. So after a recent visit to her doctor at the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, she came to a conclusion.

“If was clear that knowing what was going on with the movements in my body, if I could be more objective and precise about it, then he could do a better job with the medications,” she said.

So Dr. Rohit Dahll gave her a device called a Personal Kineti-Graph, or PKG. It’s an FDA-approved data-logger made by an Australian company called Global Kinetics.

“The device allows us to follow their movement patterns at home throughout the five or six days that they’re wearing the device,” Dahll said.

“It’s very simple and it actually has the beeper to remind you that you need to take your meds,” Harrington added.

After six days, Harrington sent the PKG back to Dr. Dahll. Then it was just a matter of a simple “data dump” into a tablet. Global Kinetics’ algorithm processes the data and presents it in a series of graphs.

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Together, they looked over the results.

“You take your first dose at 7 o’clock, that’s these bold red lines,” said Dr. Dahll, pointing at the graph.

The graphs detail all of Harrington’s movements over six days. Together, she and Dr. Dahll can see which were periods of exercise, which were unwanted body movements, and at what times she wasn’t moving at all.

Dr. Dahll decided to keep the medication doses as they are for now and to consider other options down the road. He said he can see more clearly how his patients are doing once they leave the exam room.

“It really provides us another window into what your experiences are on a daily basis,” he said.

Harrington has learned something too.

“I was surprised that it’s showing that my lifestyle has gotten slower in the afternoons and evening,” she said.

And she’s feeling better about the future:

“I’ve become much more hopeful; it creates an optimistic feeling for me.”

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Global Kinetics is making the PKG available to neurologists at the Parkinson’s Institute, and also UCSF, Sutter, and Kaiser.