Caring Currents

New Treatments Bring Hope for Advanced Parkinson's Disease

Last updated:

December 09, 2009

With Michael J. Fox putting a human face on the tragedy of advancing Parkinson's Disease, researchers are working to find treatments that work to reduce tremors and make life more manageable for those with this condition.

The shakes, tremors, and balance issues that come with Parkinson's can drastically affect a sufferer's ability to perform physical tasks, and thus to live independently. My mother suffered from severe tremors near the end of her life, and of all her symptoms, this was among those that frightened me most. I worried about her cooking, bathing, even drinking, since her tremors could make her spill hot coffee on her hands. So all news on this front is important for those of us in a caregiving role.

Two new treatments were in the news this fall, both of them offering real hope.

1. Deep Brain Stimulation
What it is: A procedure in which doctors implant electrodes into the brain to deliver precise electrical stimulation to specific areas, controlling tremors.

This year new research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed that Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) was significantly more effective than medication. The researchers followed patients for six months and found that those who had DBS had improved motor function and quality of life compared with those who tried to control their Parkinson's with medication. This study involved only patients over the age of 70, so the results are significant for anyone caring for an elderly person with Parkinson's.

2. Gamma Knife Surgery
What it is: A high-tech procedure that delivers radiation deep within the brain to relieve shaking and tremors.

A gamma knife is a high-tech tool that emits powerful, focused radiation beams that can be trained on a specific area of the brain without damaging surrounding tissue. Researchers at Texas Tech University followed people who underwent gamma knife surgery -- also called radiosurgery -- to treat their tremors. The researchers found that for up to seven years after treatment, 84 percent of patients had "significant or complete resolution" of their tremors. And these were all patients who'd previously tried medication and it hadn't worked.

If you're caring for someone with Parkinson's, talk to the doctor about whether gamma knife therapy or DBS might be an option, if medication is failing to control tremors.