Among the gifts I have received this year is learning many cool new words, one of them being “micrographia”. Micrographia literally means “small writing” and refers to a common symptom of Parkinson’s — where your handwriting gets smaller and smaller, and/or tends to run off the page instead of staying on a nice level line.
Another gift I have received is going to the World Parkinson’s Congress and meeting/ hearing lots of brainy researchers. One of them was Naiqian Zhi, a Chinese national researching at Northeastern University’s Engineering Department (in Boston, MA). She is part of a team researching using handwriting as an early diagnosis of PD. Since there is no objective biomarker (yet) for PD, clues to early diagnosis are critical.
Guess what happens after you freely distribute your card with your email address at the conference? You get recruited in the research project! That is why you see a photo of me holding a TV remote. (Why is the photo black? I was having fun with the photo software, and looking for a way to doctor the rather grim original.)
I am doing what the project calls “Amplified Air Writing”, that is, writing foot-tall letters in the air. I’m supposed to do this three times a day for two weeks, and I am very glad I’m halfway through. It is literally and figuratively a pain. Try writing the alphabet in the air, and you will find it almost immediately hurting your right shoulder. I also write in the normal fashion once a day. And what am I writing (in the air or on paper)? The classic typewriter sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”, the cursive alphabet, numbers 0-9, and my printed and written signature. I have suddenly become “Laura Gould”, not “Laura Kennedy Gould” for the duration of this project. I have not thought this much about handwriting since Mrs. Seal made me write daily lines of cursive in sixth grade. I hope this is doing some neurological rewiring in my brain — I guess that’s the idea.
The other part of the research is collecting historical examples of my handwriting. If the theory was correct, you should be seeing my handwriting deteriorating over the years. Alas, I am probably not their best research subject — my handwriting has always been lousy! The things I do for science….