New app measures battery life for brain stimulation patients

For people with neurological disorders who use deep brain stimulators, a low battery can mean the return of mentally and physically crippling symptoms. Fortunately for some of these people, now there’s an app to assist with that.

In fact, help is now just a smartphone away. The UF Health Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration has developed an iPhone and Android app for patients who use deep brain stimulators, or DBS. The app, released this month, enables clinicians and patients to measure the battery life left in their DBS devices. This is good news for the more than 100,000 people worldwide with implanted deep brain stimulators.

“During the past several years, we have implanted nearly 1,000 of these devices at UF Heath and have studied short and long-term benefits and side effects,” explained the center’s co-director, Michael S. Okun, M.D. “In some cases, battery depletion could lead to rebound of motor symptoms like tremor or dystonia, but in other neuropsychiatric conditions, it could lead to suicide attempts or other devastating consequences.”

Okun, University of Florida medical student Mike Montuno and area high school student Andrew Kohner studied the relationship between battery depletion and symptom recurrence as part of a summer research project. Their work culminated in a paper published online in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. UF medical student Kaihan Fakhar also published a follow-up paper on the site proposing an algorithm to avoid the DBS battery-related issue.

“We wanted to develop a simple tool and put it in the hands of physicians and patients,” Okun said. “During a doctor’s visit, the clinician can show the patient which are the simulation settings on the device. In less than a minute, they can check the battery levels and schedule a pre-emptive battery change, if necessary, before re-emergence of bothersome and potentially devastating symptoms.”

The new app provides patients and their families with a new level of comfort and ease.

“I can get up-to-date information on the battery life for Austin, anytime and anywhere,” said Michele Streitmatter, mother of Austin Streitmatter, a patient of Okun’s with dystonia. “I don’t have to worry about where we are or interrupt his schedule; I will know exactly when I need to make arrangements. This will give Austin a sense of control over his dystonia, which means the world to us.”

The app was developed in collaboration with James Oliverio and Reid Perkins-Buzo, programmers at the UF Digital Worlds Institute. It can be purchased online at the Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market by searching for DBS BE, deep brain stimulation or DBS Battery Estimator/calculator. The app is compatible with Android, iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.