Sam Bauman: New electronic treatment for Parkinson’s disease
February 13, 2017
A recent Mayo Clinic Health Letter reported on progress in treating those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. What it did for me was trigger memories of pasts encounters I’ve had with sufferers.
I go back to childhood in an Eastern Ohio small town of my youth. There was a neighbor man who seldom came out of his house, and when he did, he would often drop something. So we kids said he was ill with “dropsy,” our thoughtless diagnosis.
Now, I know that it was Parkinson’s disease he suffered from.
Then a few years ago I was acting as a “caregiver” and worked with a Parkinson’s disease homebound man in a lovely old house in Carson City. He lived with his sister after a career as an architect, and aside from trembles in his hands was quite normal.
I saw him once a week for two or more hours, depending on how he was feeling. He was taking regular medications which he said seemed to help, but standing was difficult. He bragged about hiring someone to help when he needed a bath.
We had interesting chats — at least to me — and he was clearly upbeat about his condition.
Back to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter; it offered a new technique for Parkinson’s treatments:
First, the letter went into regular treatment for the disease. Typically those aged 60 and over are most likely to suffer from Parkinson’s and can still live a productive and enjoyable life. Treatment is usually with medications which lessened the tremble of the hands and rubbing on the index finger of the thumb. These symptoms can be reduced for a period of time but gradually become less effective.
The primary cause of Parkinson’s is when the dopamine-producing nerve cells begin to die slowly. Brain cells communicate with one another through communication messengers called neurotransmitters and dopamine is one of the major transmitters in the brain.
Parkinson’s symptoms appear gradually as dopamine cells are lost and brain cells begin to communicate with muscles which can lead to impaired body movement.
The hallmark of Parkinson’s is the slow and progressive deterioration of movement control. To identify the disease doctors look for four symptoms:
Shaking or tremors that are more pronounced at rest. This often begins in the hand or fingers on one side of the body. It then spreads to the other side of the body. Not everyone with Parkinson’s has the visible tremor.
Slower body movement (bradykinesia). It becomes more difficult to use the arm or leg for minor tasks such as buttoning a shirt, typing, lifting coin from a pocket or rising from a chair, or freezing when you start to walk or take shorter or faster steps when walking.
Rigid or muscle stiffness. Causes stiff movement of arms, legs or body, first on one side of the body, then the other. Reduced arm swing when walking is common.
Instability of balance. Diminished reflexes and falls are serious effects but don’t come until late in the disease.
Drug treatments can help with obvious signs but won’t stop the disease but help for several years.
The most effective for older adults is the replacement of the lost dopamine is for adults is the drug carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet). After years of this the drug at slowly increasing levels its effectiveness wears off. Patients can move to the drug Rytary.
When drugs become ineffective, patients can try deep brain stimulation, the newest treatment. This is a surgical procedure which involves planting thin electrodes into a specific part of the brain. These are connected to a pacemaker generator implanted in the chest near the collarbone. The signals to the brain can control some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. This doesn’t work for everybody, nor for those with dementia. But it’s a possible help to many with Parkinson’s.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.