Haims: New technology is changing Parkinson’s treatment
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States, it is estimated that almost one million people have Parkinson’s. Further, it is estimated that the annual incidence of Parkinson’s may be between 60,000 and 90,000 people a year — 50% higher than previous estimates.
Traditional treatment options for Parkinson’s often involve medications along with exercise routines that manage symptoms, but unfortunately, they often fall short of providing long-term relief. For some people, an invasive surgical procedure approved by the FDA 20 years ago called deep brain stimulation has proven successful and has provided longer-term relief. Now, advancements in a therapy approved by the FDA less than a decade ago called focused ultrasound therapy are showing great promise in managing the symptoms and improving the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients.
Focused ultrasound therapy utilizes high-intensity ultrasound waves to selectively target and destroy specific brain tissues responsible for Parkinson’s symptoms. By making precise cuts in specific regions of the brain, this therapy is proving successful in treating Parkinson’s ailments. The treatment was FDA approved in 2016 for people with essential tremors and was more recently approved to treat dyskinesia (uncontrolled, involuntary movement) and motor impairment in Parkinson’s disease. This non-invasive approach offers several advantages over traditional surgical procedures such as DBS, as it does not require incisions or the insertion of electrodes into the brain.
Clinical studies and research have shown promising outcomes for focused ultrasound. Now therapies are being developed that demonstrate substantial improvements in tremor control, reducing motor symptoms, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slowness of movement) with Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, this therapy has the potential to provide long-lasting benefits, allowing patients to reduce their reliance on medications.
Focused ultrasound therapy is also showing some promise in temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier — a formidable obstacle in allowing molecules to pass through from blood to the brain. Normally, the blood-brain barrier keeps potentially toxic substances and pathogens from entering the brain while allowing water, oxygen and vital nutrients to reach the brain. Research published in the National Library of Medicine indicates that focused ultrasound therapy may not only increase the efficacy of pharmaceutical drug delivery to specific brain regions but also aid in the removal of harmful neurodegenerative proteins.
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While focused ultrasound therapy holds tremendous potential for Parkinson’s treatment, there are challenges. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, “FUS is approved only for treatment on only one side of the brain, meaning it only helps symptoms on one side of the body. This is because, when done on both sides of the brain, FUS may cause speech, swallowing or memory problems.”
Continued research and development efforts are crucial to optimize this innovative technology and improve accessibility for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, longer and larger trials will be necessary to determine the efficacy and safety of this technique in persons with Parkinson’s disease.
Ultrasound therapy holds great promise in improving the quality of life for individuals living with this challenging neurodegenerative disorder. If you or someone you know is afflicted with this disease, make an effort to go online and learn about new research. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson Research Foundation, The American Parkinson Disease Association, and The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke are great resources.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.