Deep Brain Stimulation May Ease Early Parkinson's
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Patients in the deep brain stimulation group experienced an improvement of 26 percent in their quality of life.
This, said Deuschl, was "the most impressive finding," although mobility was also improved in the combination group.
Participants receiving deep brain stimulation did have a higher rate of suicide (two in this group versus one in the medication-only group), though the researchers speculated that the people in the study may have started out with higher risk for suicide.
In any event, patients undergoing deep brain stimulation would need to be closely monitored for psychiatric symptoms, the study authors added.
An accompanying editorial called the study "one of the most rigorously conducted trials of neurostimulation," yet also pointed out some limitations.
For one thing, patients in the study were younger, healthier and less likely to be demented than most patients with Parkinson's disease.
And deep brain stimulation alleviated only some symptoms of the disease.
The procedure is widely available in the United States, said Singer, but is only approved -- and Medicare only covers it -- for more advanced patients.
Still, the findings suggest that "instead of waiting for patients to have very marked fluctuations, peaks and very deep valleys, [we] move in when the peaks and valleys are not that steep," Singer said.
"The data suggest that patients can safely, and with significantly better outcome, receive neurostimulation," said Deuschl. "We expect that the international guidelines will change at this point, and the patients will be offered neurostimulation at a much earlier time."
The study was partially funded by Medtronic, which makes deep brain stimulation products.
Learn more about Parkinson's at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.