Healthy Living

Breakthrough in Parkinson's Disease Research Allows Patients to Sleep During Deep Brain Stimulation

Breakthrough in Parkinson's Disease Research Allows Patients to Sleep During Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation surgery has contributed to an improvement to the quality of life for patients with Parkinson's disease. This brain surgery reduces the patient's symptoms and tremors by inserting electrodes into the brain. The catch? The patient is awake during the 4-6 hour surgery. 

Under mild sedation, and using a microelectrode guided technique for the deep brain stimulation, the patient remains awake.  This allows neurological function (speech and voluntary movement) to be checked periodically during the procedure, which is only possible in an awake patient. While there are many patients who are fit to have the surgery, many opt out because the idea is frightening.  According to Wesley Thevathasan, Bionic Institute Clinical Neurologist, there are only 10 percent of Parkinson's patients who agree to this procedure.

One Parkinson's patient, 49-year-old Grant Rowe, underwent the surgery in hopes of decreasing his tremors and symptoms. And, he was not disappointed. Before the surgery, Rowe shared that he struggled with feeling old every single day. But, once he had the surgery, he saw a major improvement in his quality of life.

Ever since the surgery, Rowe no longer needed medication to manage his symptoms.

The discovery of a new brain signal that allows patients to stay asleep

Other Parkinson’s patients can get similar results as Mr. Rowe. Unfortunately, though, many are simply not comfortable with the procedure's complexities. However, the good news is that recently, researchers have discovered a way to perform DBS with the patient under General Anesthesia.  

Bionics Institute scientists studied he brainwaves of 19 patients who underwent treatment. Fourteen had Parkinson’s disease while the other five had a condition known as essential tremor.

According to the study, researchers discovered a unique brain signal that helped guide surgeons in placing the electrodes in the patient’s brain. This allows surgeons to perform the treatment while the patient sleeps throughout the surgery.

The researchers believe they can develop a device that will aid them in detecting brain signal changes. Once this is accomplished,  they will be able to adjust the surgery in real-time, allowing them to respond to the patient’s condition and unique symptoms.

Benefits of Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery

There are two major benefits to DBS. The patient's movements after DBS are similar to how their body responded previously with medication. In addition, it reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesias. DBS benefits patients who tend to cycle between states of immobility and states of better mobility.  The difference between the two states seems to be less of a drastic change.  Apparently, symptoms that get better with with levodopa such as stiffness, gait issues and tremors, also improve. Although DBS does not have an impact on the underlying causes of Parkinson's, it does greatly reduce some of the more difficult symptoms. 

The differences between Parkinson's disease and essential tremor

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative illness that affects the person’s brain, stimulating changes in how a person controls his body movements. The disorder has three major symptoms: slowed movement, tremors, and stiffness. Parkinson’s disease, in some cases, can also make the patient experience trouble with sleeping, increased pain, and psychological issues like depression.

This degenerative disorder occurs when the nerves in the brain’s middle area degenerate progressively, which leads to a lack of dopamine. This chemical messenger plays an important role in muscle movement control.

There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, symptoms can be managed. Treatment for the disorder includes physical activity, a healthy and balanced diet, medications, and deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment.

Essential tremor, on the other hand, is a nerve condition that causes tremors or uncontrollable shaking. People suffering from this condition experience tremors in their their hands, head, and voice. Tremors are also aggravated by movement or strenuous activities. While it can occur at any age, people who are 40 years and older are more prone to it. 

Essential tremor is different from Parkinson’s disease. The causes for this condition are not identified, but researchers have discovered that genetics play a key role. Children with parents affected with the condition have a 50% chance of acquiring essential tremor.

Parkinson's disease and essential tremor: By the numbers

  • As many as 1,000,000 Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease. This figure is greater than the combined total of people diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. This figure does not include the thousands more that remain undiagnosed. 
  • Globally, an estimated 7 to 10 million people live with Parkinson’s disease.
  • An estimated 4% of people with Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed with the condition before they reach age 50.
  • Men are 1.5 times more likely to acquire Parkinson's than women.
  • Associated costs for Parkinson's reached $25 billion in the United States. This includes social security payments, treatment, and lost income due to the patient’s incapacity to work.
  • Approximately $100,000 is needed per patient for therapeutic surgery.
  • Approximately 8 million people, or 2.2% of the population have essential tremor.

Natural treatments for Parkinson's disease

While this is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are natural treatments to help improve the patient’s symptoms.

  • Diet:  It is important for patients to eat healthy foods--high-quality lean meats and fresh vegetables and fruit. It is also best to avoid consuming foods that contain preservatives, chemicals and synthetic ingredients, as well as processed foods. Fiber-rich foods, healthy fats, and foods rich in omega-3 are essential. Higher omega-3 intake is helpful in elevating dopamine levels and reducing inflammation. Patients are advised to eat wild seafood and include seeds and nuts in their diet.
  • Vitamins, supplements and essential oils:  Recommended supplements include Coenzyme Q10, vitamins C, and E, and D, and Omega-3 fish oil. Essential oils such as frankincense, vetiver, and lavender may help. 
  • Movement therapy and exercise:  A report from the Washington University School of Medicine revealed that exercise serves as the forefront of treatment for Parkinson’s disease. While patients may not be as agile or flexible as they once were, studies show it is critical to continue to move, walk and incorporate gentle exercises. 
  • Acupuncture: In a recent study, the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Group showed acupuncture generated a neural brain response, which can help relieve some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s.