Using Accelerometers to Quantify Infant General Movements as a Tool for Assessing Motility to Assist in Making a Diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy

Diagnosing cerebral palsy is not easy. There is not a single test doctors universally use to provide a diagnosis. Instead, patients go through rounds of medical evaluations, medical tests, and the process of elimination before receiving a cerebral palsy diagnosis. Some diagnoses come soon after birth while others take years.

A relatively new technique using a device called an accelerometer may present a new way to diagnose cerebral palsy. One study suggests using this device to measure infant general movements (GMs) could result in an earlier diagnosis. The sooner a doctor can diagnose cerebral palsy, the sooner the patient can receive necessary treatments.

How Do Doctors Currently Diagnose Cerebral Palsy?

Diagnosing cerebral palsy today takes monitoring a baby's development and checking for signs of the condition. Some babies are more at risk for developing cerebral palsy, such as those with low birth weight or preterm deliveries. In these cases, physicians may monitor the baby more closely in the neonatal intensive care unit than other infants. In other cases, parents may notice strange symptoms or developmental delays later. Some diagnostic techniques used today include:

  • Parental observances of developmental delays or impaired muscle tone
  • Physician analyses using standardized developmental screening tools
  • Reflex tests during infancy, to see if some grow stronger rather than fade away with age
  • Consistent tests and documentation of a child's development over time
  • Motion studies using video footage to examine coordination
  • Muscle coordination and control tests and evaluations
  • Medical history and prenatal history reviews
  • Evaluations of any birth injuries or complications during birth
  • Tests to rule out similar conditions, including nervous disorders

A doctor should not deliver a cerebral palsy diagnosis until he or she is certain this is the case. This is why it can take months or even years to achieve a diagnosis. Yet the medical community agrees that early diagnosis can help with early intervention, and have the potential for better treatment results for children with cerebral palsy. A new technique that may help doctors reach faster diagnoses of cerebral palsy could change lives.

New Technique for Measuring Infant General Movements and Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy

Using infant general movements to help diagnose cerebral palsy is not new. For decades, neurologists have studied infant general movements for signs of neurological dysfunction. It is a known fact that analyzing GMs can accurately predict conditions such as cerebral palsy through a study of variation, fluency, and complexity in body motions. However, physicians have not always had a consistent or reliable means to measure the GMs of infant limbs. This may have impeded speedy diagnoses of cerebral palsy in the past.

Today, researchers are exploring a new technique to achieve consistent quantitative measurements of GMs, through the use of accelerometers. An accelerometer is an electromechanical device that measures acceleration forces. It can measure minor movements or vibrations based on the change in velocity. The new technique uses signal processing to analyze the data from the accelerometer and find patterns. Combined with the current diagnosis technique of using video footage of the patient, the accelerometer technique could provide more accurate physical information to doctors.

Use of an accelerometer to directly measure movement, combined with signal processing techniques, can create graphical representations of GMs that may enable faster cerebral palsy diagnosis. The technique the study suggests gives physicians a graphical analysis tool based on the infant's physical performance, using new microelectronic technology. It is possible that this new technique could become the standard of care method, as the authors of the study suggest.

The Benefits of Using the New Technique

Cerebral palsy has been historically difficult to diagnosis. Parents have to undergo lengthy and emotional diagnostic processes, all while their children miss out on the benefits of early intervention. Although current clinical evaluations are accurate, more in-depth analyses of infant's movements could be helpful in the diagnosis process. The new technique achieves this more in-depth analysis, and could potentially yield the following benefits over current methods:

  • Faster dysfunction diagnosis. Use of the new accelerometer technique could allow physicians to compare motions from different limbs to help identify dysfunction. It also allows the study of high-frequency motions in infants - motions that may previously have been undetectable by the human eye.
  • Easier access to motion studies. Doctors can use data from the accelerometer to create and update signal processing algorithms, lending the ability to quickly and easily review an infant's full history of motion studies. This can save considerable time in locating and reviewing each individual video.
  • More efficient diagnosis processes. Rather than carrying out a 12-step process or other lengthy diagnosis procedure, doctors can adopt the new technique to quickly and efficiently review pertinent physical information and accurately diagnose neurological conditions. It may eliminate the significant amount of time it currently takes to use GMs to predict the outcome of cerebral palsy diagnoses.

Using an accelerometer to quantify infant GMs and assess mobility could be the answer to difficult and time-consuming cerebral palsy diagnoses. New technologies and quantification procedures could add valuable tools to a physician's bag. Doctors could, for the first time, track test results over time, and more quickly diagnose cerebral palsy.