npj Digital Medicine Pub Date : 2019-09-24 , DOI: 10.1038/s41746-019-0171-4 Ryen W. White, Eric Horvitz
Tremors are a common movement disorder with a spectrum of benign and pathological causes, including neurodegenerative disease, alcohol withdrawal, and physical overexertion. Studies of tremors in clinical practice are limited in size and scope and depend on explicit tracking of tremor characteristics by clinicians. Data drawn from small numbers of patients observed in short-duration sessions pose challenges for understanding the nature and distribution of tremors over a large population. Methods are presented to estimate hand tremors based on anonymized computer mouse cursor movement data collected from millions of users of a web search engine. To determine the feasibility of using this signal for the estimation of the prevalence of tremors over a large population, the characteristics of tremor-like movements are computed and compared against user data that can be interpreted as self-reports, the findings of published clinical studies, and a target selection study where participants self-report hand tremors and known causes. The results demonstrate significant alignment between estimated tremors and both self-reports and clinical findings. Those with cursor tremor events are more likely to report tremor-related search interests. Variations in cursor tremor quantity and cursor tremor frequency with demographics mirror those from clinical studies. Distributions of cursor tremor frequencies vary as expected for different medical conditions. Overall, the study finds evidence for the validity of harnessing anonymized mouse cursor motion as a population-scale tremor sensor for epidemiologic studies. Feasible future applications include opt-in services for screening and for monitoring the progression of illness.