YOUR HEALTH: How deep brain stimulation may help Parkinson’s patients

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – About 60,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year.  Now, results from a study show one particular surgical treatment may become the first line of defense when it comes to treating one of Parkinson's most common symptoms.

Dale Nevels didn't think much at first about his shaky hands.

Then one night he was having dinner with a client and they asked him whether he was going to drive home.

"I said, 'I'm staying at a hotel across the street. Why would you ask that?'  And he said, 'because your hands are shaking so bad,   We think you've been drinking too much'."

That led Dale to go see his doctor.  The diagnosis was Parkinson's disease.

Tremors, or shaking of the hands, feet, or legs, occurs in 70% of Parkinson's patients.

Current treatments help control the symptoms.

But that's all.

"All of the therapies that we currently have available do not change the progression of the disease," said Dr. David Charles, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University.

Researchers at Vanderbilt have found that deep brain stimulation, or DBS, may slow the progression of tremors in early-stage patients.

"The patients that received optimal medical therapy were seven times more likely to have tremor develop in an additional body segment over the course of the study compared to those that received DBS, explained Dr. Charles.

Dale took part in the trial, even though he had to stop taking his Parkinson's medications, putting him at risk for worsening symptoms,

But Dale has never regretted it.

"The surgeon that did the surgery for me came into my room the next morning and he said, 'I can assure you got five good years'. but I'm in my 12th year."

RESULTS:   Analysis showed that 86% of drug therapy patients developed rest tremor over the course of a two-year period, while it occurred in only 46% of patients who received this DBS therapy in addition to drug therapy.   Four of the DBS patients had rest tremor improvement, and it completely disappeared from all affected limbs for one DBS patient.

Vanderbilt is the lead center for a new large-scale phase three clinical trial for DBS in early stage Parkinson's patients.   Patients must be 50 to 75 years old, have had Parkinson's disease for one to four years and have a stable response to medication.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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