Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been used successfully since 1987 to help reduce and control the symptoms of Parkinson’s patients. Absent a cure, DBS remains a highly effective treatment for Parkinson’s and research continues to substantiate this belief. We now know that DBS works more effectively than medications alone in controlling Parkinson’s symptoms. And, researchers have recently found that DBS can extend lifespan. In effect, DBS is providing better and longer lives to Parkinson’s patients than most other medical treatments.
DBS as an Adjunct and Alternative Therapy for Parkinson’s Patients
Medications continue to be the first line of treatment for Parkinson’s patients. Parkinson’s medications are intended to replace the missing dopamine or enhance the effect of existing dopamine (dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with emotional responses and movement).
While highly effective in some patients, medications eventually lose their effectiveness, even in Parkinson’s patients whose symptoms were previously well managed with medical therapy alone. Medications also carry a serious risk of side effects, which can affect each patient differently. Side effects from Parkinson’s medications can range from dyskinesia (involuntary movements) to sleep issues and hallucinations.
DBS for Parkinson’s has been found to be effective as both an adjunct (complimentary) and alternative to Parkinson’s medications. Numerous studies including, “Deep brain stimulation plus best medical therapy versus best medical therapy alone for advanced Parkinson's disease,” published in 2010 in The Lancet Neurology medical journal, have found that DBS with medications can nearly double the amount of “on time” without dyskinesia every day.
Meanwhile, a 2009 study published in JAMA shows that bilateral DBS “was more effective than best medical therapy in improving on time without troubling dyskinesias, motor function, and quality of life at six months.” When Parkinson’s patients are better able to control their symptoms, as these studies and others show DBS does, their quality of life improves.
Survival Rates for Parkinson’s Patients Improves
While there is undoubtedly risk with brain surgery, the risk is minimal, particularly at centers specializing in DBS surgery. (The Denver DBS Center currently performs about 100 DBS procedures annually and records complication rates well below the national average.)
Currently, DBS is the most effective treatment for increasing the life spans of patients with Parkinson’s disease. This recent study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry in January 2014, showed that “patients undergoing STN-DBS had significantly longer survival and were significantly less likely to be admitted to a residential care home than those managed purely medically.” The study highlights that patients who chose not to receive DBS had a 3.4 times higher risk of death than those who opted to have DBS.
Potential reasons for the lower risk of death after DBS may be due to an improved ability to swallow, which decreases the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
There are many other reasons why DBS is an effective option for Parkinson’s patients, but the two mentioned above—improved quality of life and increased survival rates—are certainly the most compelling.
To hear more about DBS from a patient's perspective, visit our Patient Stories page.