Shocking the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

March 28, 2011 3:18:03 PM PDT
More than 1.5 million people live with Parkinson's disease in the United States. While the disorder tends to be more common in older people, it isn't always the case.

Driving, pouring coffee, and flipping through a book are simple things people take for granted, but for people living with Parkinson's disease they become a big challenge.

Parkinson's disease drastically changed Resa King's life just before her fortieth birthday.

"For me, it was really intolerable. I couldn't really walk because people thought I was drunk," said King.

At just 39 years old, King got the news. Her constant shaking and inability to control her own movements was an early onset of Parkinson's disease. Medicine initially offered relief, but the side effects became just as debilitating.

"You take the medication four times a day, so you go through this valley, rising four times a day," said King.

Desperate for relief, King tried deep brain stimulation (DBS).

"The advantage of deep brain stimulation is that you don't take anything by mouth, so it's 'on' all the time. So, the patients don't go into 'on' periods and 'off' periods," said Dr. Helen Bronte-Stewart.

Stanford doctors implanted a pacemaker-like device into King's chest. Wires from there went into King's brain, sending out pulses of electricity that help ease the uncontrolled movements.

Like any brain surgery, there's a risk of infection and hemorrhaging. But after DBS, patients often experience less stiffness and tremors, and most are able to cut the medications in half.

"That translates into being able to walk faster, take bigger strides, and have a more predictable lifestyle," said Dr. Bronte-Stewart.

While DBS didn't erase all of King's symptoms, her close friends saw a change immediately.

"It's unbelievable, what's been done. It's just remarkable," said King, whose everyday tasks became much more bearable.

"Now, people come up to me and say, 'You're doing so much better.' I say, 'Does it really show that much?' They say, 'Oh yeah, it shows,'" said King.

DBS therapy typically works best in the mid stages of the disease and does not help patients with speech or cognition problems.