Health Team

Parkinson disease treatments put to the test

Posted January 6, 2009 5:39 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

A new study compared the risks and benefits of deep brain stimulation and best medical therapy, two widely used treatments for Parkinson disease.

Deep brain stimulation, or DBS, is a surgical procedure in which very small electrodes are placed in the brain. The electric stimulation can be adjusted.

Best medical therapy involves a specialist prescribing a combination of medication and therapies.

About 25 percent of the patients in the study were 70 or older.

“Parkinson's patients are often older, but older people are often excluded from research studies,” Dr. Frances Weaver of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Ill., said.

Study participant Richard Seeger had the surgery.

“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, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that at six months of treatment, DBS patients with Parkinson disease had 4.6 more hours per day of normal functioning than those receiving best medical therapy.

For the DBS patients, the improved movement and quality of life were about the same for all patients, regardless of age.

“The fact that our older patients did almost as well was a very surprising and positive finding for us,” Weaver said.

DBS patients do experience a higher rate of complications, so patients should carefully weigh the risks and benefits.

The next phase of the study will compare different placements of DBS implants.