What is the best treatment for Parkinson's disease? A new study provides the surprising answer.
"Parkinson's is on the rise; affecting millions of Americans with tremors, muscle stiffness and an inability to move. This new study compares two widely accepted forms of treatment for the disease, and measures the benefits and risks of each, even for older patients," Dr. Bruce Hensel said.
Since Richard Seeger was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991, his movement ability has rapidly deteriorated.
"I couldn't get up from the seat. I'd have to bounce and bounce and bounce until I finally got my legs, my knees locked," Seeger said.
He volunteered to participate in a study comparing a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation and "best medical therapy," defined as treatment by a movement disorders specialist, including a combination of medication and therapies.
Richard was chosen at random to undergo surgery, in which very small electrodes were placed in his brain. The electric stimulation was then adjusted to best control his symptoms.
"They turned it on and, I tell you what, they couldn't hardly believe it, I was walking around, not shaking," Seeger said.
The study, featured in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that at six months, patients who received deep brain stimulation increased the amount of time per day that they were able to function normally by 4.6 hours compared with patients receiving best medical therapy.
Significant improvements in most movement functions and quality of life were also measured and it was found that the extent of benefit was roughly the same for all surgical patients, regardless of age.
"The fact that our older patients did almost as well was a very surprising and positive finding for us," said Frances M. Weaver, Ph.D.
However, the study also found a higher rate of complications for patients who underwent deep brain stimulation.
"The take-home message from this study is that each patient should weigh the benefits and risks of undergoing deep brain stimulation but that being older and having Parkinson's does not exclude a person from being appropriate for receiving this treatment," Weaver said.
Phase two of this study will focus on the placement of the deep brain stimulation implant, and compare which of two different sites provides better control of symptoms of parkinson disease.
"All surgeries carry risk but this procedure is relatively simple; and the results are often strikingly good. The choice of treatment depends on hsitory and condition and all options should be discussed with an expert," Dr. Hensel said.