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Deep Brain Stimulation offers hope to those with Parkinson’s and movement disorders

March 23, 2021

Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s and Tremors

For patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders, a first-of-its-kind procedure for western Massachusetts is now available at Baystate Medical Center. Often called a ‘pacemaker for the brain,’ deep brain stimulation (DBS) may provide a new lease on life for many struggling with these conditions.

“While it’s not a cure, deep brain stimulation can significantly improve the quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s, essential tremors, and other movement disorders,” says Dr. Richard Ogbuji, neurosurgeon, Baystate Neurosurgery. Ogbuji, who is pioneering the procedure at Baystate Medical Center, says that in the past, surgery was often considered a ‘last resort option’ for patients. “However, research has shown that DBS can be extremely effective over the long-term,” says Ogbuji, “So instead of being just a ‘last resort,’ DBS is now a viable treatment option much earlier and provides a quality of life to patients that may been missed by waiting until later to receive treatment.”

Beyond Medication

The first line of treatment for people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders is typically medication. However, some people can tolerate the medication and for others, it’s not always effective. “Plus,” Ogbuji adds, ”For those that can take the medication, the longer they take it, the less effective it becomes at eliminating or minimizing symptoms of Parkinson’s including dyskinesia, dystonia, freezing, and fluctuations. Over time, the benefits of medication essentially disappear. That’s another reason that DBS is so compelling. Some of patients who received the earliest treatments in the early 2000s are still living very well with the device.”

How does Deep Brain Stimulation Work?

DBS is a three-step procedure.

The first two steps involve placing a small electrode into one side of your brain and then the other. The electrodes are powered by a battery pack which is implanted just below the skin on your chest in the third procedure. Once in place and turned on, the electric current transmitted by the electrodes disrupts the brain’s malfunctioning signaling system and alleviate some of the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, essential tremors and other movement disorders.

“The entire system is contained within the patient’s body. While patients can turn it on or off using a remote control, it is designed to run 24/7, if need be,” says Ogbuji, “The signal can be adjusted without surgery to derive the most benefit for the patient.”

Is DBS right for you?

While the advantages of DBS are clear — including the fact that it’s covered by insurance — not everyone with a motor disorder is a candidate.

“There are a number of criteria patients have to meet in order to be considered for DBS,” says Ogbuji. “The best candidates are responsive to motor disorder medications. However, if an individual suffers from severe depression, impulse control and other neuropsychological disorders, they may not qualify for DBS. In addition, DBS requires patients to undergo three medical procedures requiring anesthesia. If a patient isn’t well enough to undergo surgery, DBS is not going to be an option.”

Ogbuji adds, “DBS can provide some tremendous benefits to individuals with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. But as I said before, it’s not a cure. DBS does not eliminate issues related to balance and it does not stop the progression of Parkinson’s and other diseases. In some cases, patients who undergo DBS may still require medication for certain conditions. If you’re considering DBS, it’s very important to speak with your doctor about what type of improvement you can expect for your condition.”

Image used with permission from the Parkinson's Foundation. Learn more about neurology and neurosurgery at Baystate Health.

ICYMI: Dr. Ogbuji on Deep Brain Stimulation

In a recent virtual event given through Baystate Health's Senior Class program, Dr. Ogbuji talked about movement disorders and Deep Brain Stimulation.

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