Managing Parkinson’s with technologies

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the second most common neurogenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s. According to Parkinson’s Foundation, 10 million people around the world are suffering from the disease. While the exact cause is unknown, experts say it is developed due to genetic and environmental factors that destroy the nerve cells in the brain. For an untreatable disease like PD, technology is opening new doors to reducing the symptoms, offering patients a better lifestyle.

We live in times when devices are altering your nerve activity by sending electrical signals to target a specific disease in your body. Everything that once sounded like science fiction is now turning into a reality. We can now rely on therapies like Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to make an incurable disease like PD, much more manageable than ever before. DBS has helped in significantly reducing the symptoms of tremor, slowness, stiffness, speech disorder and impaired balance.

DBS system regulates the dysfunctional circuits in the brain by sending electrical signals to certain parts of the brain which block the impulses that cause neurofunctional dysfunctions. Simply put, DBS helps restore the stability of the disturbed brain circuits to help your brain activity return to normal.

During a DBS surgery, doctors implant a medical device operated by a battery, called a neurostimulator in the patient’s chest region below the collar bone. The device is connected with wires placed under the skin that send electrical stimulation to a certain area of the brain that controls movements. The wire is then connected with electrodes placed in the brain. The system can be turned on and off by the patient or the clinician as per the symptoms.

Over the years, innovations have transformed conventional DBS systems into smarter tools with battery lives that last 24 hours.

Earlier the DBS systems did not have long-lasting battery system but these days it is available. The new devices are engineered for precise neural targeting to customise therapy for patients with PD, primary and secondary dystonia and essential tremor.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, over 35,000 DBS implants have been carried out worldwide. DBS has proven to be effective in patients suffering from both Primary and Secondary Dystonia and for patients with Multiple Sclerosis, technology has helped to reduce the hand movement.

According to doctors, while the main cause of PD remains undiagnosed, it is the dopamine level that leads to the symptoms of the disease.

PD is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominately dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. It is a chronic and progressive disease, meaning that the symptoms become worse over time. It is characterized by its most common of motor symptoms—tremors, stiffness or rigidity of the muscles, and slowness of movement but also manifests in non-motor symptoms including sleep problems, constipation, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, among others.

The new DBS system allows for accurate targeting and minimized unwanted side effects. The leads are designed for durability and prevention of electrical shorting. The power sources automatically adjust for impedance changes to provide accurate and sustained stimulation over time.

Technology has already made great strides in discovering better ways to manage the symptoms of PD. Scientists are on the verge of making a major leap forward in their ability to treat the disease giving people suffering from Parkinson’s a ray of hope.

About the author:

Dr Raghuram G, Senior Consultant Neurosurgeon and Spine Surgeon, Columbia Asia Hospitals, Bangalore.

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