Deep brain stimulation benefits some Parkinson’s sufferers

By • Published: April 16th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

An electrifying treatment for Parkinson’s disease may give patients more freedom from their symptoms than medicine alone.

Researchers writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that certain patients who received electronic stimulation deep inside their brains were symptom-free at least four more hours a day than those getting other kinds of treatment.

Parkinson’s disease is caused by deterioration of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, which results in tremor, stiffness and other movement problems.

Two-hundred-fifty-five people with advanced Parkinson’s disease participated in the study. Some received implant treatment while others received other common forms of therapy. Participants in the implant group had pacing devices placed in their chest, which sent signals to the substantia nigra… a part of the brain associated with movement.

After six months, patients undergoing brain stimulation reported significantly more time without symptoms than patients in the other group.

Brain implants for Parkinson’s sufferers have been around for about a decade. They are most often used in combination with therapeutic drugs and other treatments, and are only a solution for only a subset of patients.

The treatment can also have its downsides, such as infections after surgery. Some patients suffered psychiatric maladies, like depression and anxiety, or nervous system problems.

But generally, researchers are optimistic about the benefits for older patients. About a quarter of the study participants were older than seventy, and there was no noticeable difference in the effectiveness of the treatment between age groups.