It is often the case that people who abuse alcohol sometimes try to fake the hand tremors caused by withdrawal to get a prescription for sedatives.
However, “playing” with Valium can be dangerous. “If you give large doses of Valium to people who are intoxicated, bad things happen,” says Dr. Bjug Borgundvaag, an emergency room doctor and researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “They stop breathing.”
So far the tremor app has been tested in about 80 patients, and it will need additional tests and validation before it can be used for diagnosis.Borgundvaag has been working in the ER for 19 years, and he can tell when someone is really in alcohol withdrawal. But less experienced colleagues often struggle to assess a collection of subjective symptoms that include headache, nausea and anxiety. So a fast, objective way to measure tremor would help.
Enter the modern age with accelerometer-equipped smartphones.
It took almost two years, but Borgundvaag and his team have managed to come up with an app that measures the amount of tremor in a person who appears to be in withdrawal. They simply hand the person a smartphone and wait 20 seconds. The application then does its magic telling if a tremor is real or pretend.
As it turned out, an involuntary tremor has a peak frequency of more than 7 cycles a second. When nurses tried to fake a withdrawal tremor, they had a hard time hitting that frequency. Maintaining that kind of tremor is also hard with their hands getting tired quickly.
So far the tremor app has been tested in about 80 patients, and it will need additional tests and validation before it can be used for diagnosis. The preliminary results were presented at the recent International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Chicago.
The project has a nice startup vibe, with Simon Bromberg, an engineering student who is the son of one of Borgundvaag’s colleagues, building the app for free; a computer science professor and a grad student at the University of Toronto designing the signal-analyzing system; and staff at emergency rooms in hospitals around Toronto helping with the testing.