What Deep Brain Stimulation Can (and Won’t) Do

Sometimes we don’t get all of our facts straight when it comes to getting what we want and as a Parkinson’s patient, we only want one thing… a cure.  Since we know that’s in the works but we don’t know when it will come about, we are grateful for anything that comes along that, where it may not cure us, helps us in any way to make the day to day reality of living with Parkinson’s disease easier and more comfortable.  Like Sinemet, a drug that serves as a type of replacement for the missing dopamine in our brains.  Or Lexapro, one of those wonder drugs that helps keep us on an even keel, knowing that depression can play a large, often hidden part in Parkinson’s disease.  More than most realize.

And then there’s DBS, otherwise known as Deep Brain Stimulation.  According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Deep Brain Stimulation “is a surgical procedure used to treat a variety of disabling neurological symptoms—most commonly the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD), such as tremor, rigidity, stiffness, slowed movement, and walking problems.   At present, the procedure is used only for patients whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications.

“[It] uses a surgically implanted, battery-operated medical device called a neurostimulator—similar to a heart pacemaker and approximately the size of a stopwatch—to deliver electrical stimulation to targeted areas in the brain that control movement, blocking the abnormal nerve signals that cause tremor and PD symptoms.”

DBS has been proven to do more than someone with Parkinson’s disease could have hoped for.  But, sometimes we forget the facts and hope for more.  We may even forget that DBS isn’t a cure as we come away from the surgery. We’re feeling great after our stimulator has been activated.  The tremors have ceased or at least eased.  We are getting through with lower amounts of medication.  We may not be as stiff or rigid.  We can move with less struggle and walk with more confidence.

However, perhaps we seem to be feeling slightly more depressed.  Perhaps we’re having trouble finding our ‘words’ and when we do find them, we struggle to get them out.  If only one side of our brain was ‘stimulated’, perhaps we’re now noticing just how the disease has progressed to our other side but perhaps wasn’t as noticeable prior to the surgery because we were distracted in trying to control the more pronounced side.

There can be more symptoms that are controlled.  There may be less.  DBS is not a fix-all.  You will still have Parkinson’s when you wake up after surgery, only now it may be an even more ‘invisible’ disease.  DBS can control the symptoms.  It can give you back so much of what you’ve missed.  It can seem to work miracles but it isn’t a cure.  Exercise is still vital.  Proper medication for the symptoms (such as depression) that it doesn’t control need to be monitored regularly.

If you are thinking about having Deep Brain Stimulation, talk to others who have been through it.  Read about it.  Talk to your doctor about it and ask every question you can think of.  Talk to some more people.  Be informed and then… do it.  If you feel it’s right for you and your doctor supports that and recommends the procedure, get the prep work done and if all is a go – set a date.  However, remember that DBS isn’t a replacement for treatment, it is an extension of well-managed treatment that will enhance your life.  If your treatment is not well managed – medications don’t work well, on and off’s are hit and miss, dosages haven’t been updated/changed in a while, etc. – then you probably need to get on track there first.

DBS isn’t a cure, no – but it can sure make you feel and move a whole lot better.

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