June 1, 2005 For $100, people with tremors could finally be able to use a computer mouse. A new mouse adapter filters out the high-frequency, shaky component of the movement, transmitting only the steady part. The device could enable millions of Americans to perform operations as simple as clicking on a link.
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y.--For many of us, using a computer mouse is second nature. But not for the millions of Americans who suffer from tremors. Now a new product helps make navigating a PC easier.
Eight-two-year-old Bob Schubert experiences daily frustration when he gets on the computer. "It's just a pain in the neck!" he says. Bob suffers from tremors. "Just as you get it, you put your finger on the wrong button and low and behold, it's all lost."
Now Schubert has a helping hand, thanks to this mouse adapter, invented by IBM physicist Jim Levine. "It means the person with tremors can smoothly do something with the computer he couldn't do before," Levine tells DBIS.
Using a mathematical equation, the adapter takes the motion data coming from the mouse and filters out the high-frequency portion, or any quick shaking from tremors. It then sends a slow, steady motion to the computer.
Levine says, "It's using a digital filter, which is sort of like the treble control on a hi-fi set, except rather than doing it with voltages, it's done with data."
Without the adapter, Schubert struggles to get the cursor still enough to click on the links. With it, he is able to easily bring up Web pages. "Anything that helps in getting away from the shaking part is a plus in my life," he says.
The adapter costs about $100. Schubert says it's the best hundred dollars he'll ever spend.
The mouse adapter is manufactured by a British company and is available for purchase on-line.
BACKGROUND: An IBM researcher has invented an affordable adapter to minimize the impact of hand tremors for people whose hands shake because of conditions like Parkinson's disease.
HOW IT WORKS: The adapter is about the size of a handheld calculator. It plugs in between the mouse and the computer. Inside the device is a microprocessor, which takes the motion data normally transferred to the computer from the mouse and "filters" it, using an algorithm that takes out any unnecessarily jerky or repetitious movements. In the end, only the steady part of the motion data is transferred to the computer.
CAUSES OF TREMORS: Stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, a head injury, anxiety disorders, drug withdrawal, alcohol or caffeine overdose.
ABOUT PARKINSON'S DISEASE: Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressive condition that results from a deficiency of dopamine, one of many chemical messengers in the brain that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other. When nerve cells that produce dopamine are destroyed, there isn't enough of the chemical and the brain's communication channels are disrupted. An area of the brain called the basal ganglia is one of the richest sources of dopamine, and the first to be affected by a shortage. It contains nerve cells that control a person's voluntary movement. That's why tremor is one of the most common symptoms of the disease.
WHERE TO GET IT: The mouse filter will soon be available on the Web for about $100. It will be offered by a small British electronics firm, Montrose Secam: http://www.montrosesecam.com. No additional software is required to use the Assistive Mouse Adapter.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.