Imbalance relief close for Parkinson’s patients

Deep brain stimulation therapy may offer much needed control for Parkinson’s disease patients who have developed debilitating balance problems.

A new study, published in the prestigious journal Brain, showed patients receiving deep brain stimulation therapy had significant improvements in balance control.

Impaired balance is a major contributor to falls and diminished quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease, although most patients don’t develop this symptom until the latter stages of their illness

Australian Catholic University’s Dr Michael Cole joined researchers from across Australia and the UK to evaluate how deep brain stimulation influences the body’s internal balance control systems.

Dr Cole, from ACU’s School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, said the study provided important insight into the possible mechanisms of balance impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease.

“It suggests that deep brain stimulation may offer relief from this symptom for some patients, but more work is needed to further explore the potential use of this therapy and to ensure it is optimised for future clinical application,” he said.

For most people, the autonomous processes involved with maintaining balance go unnoticed, but those with Parkinson’s struggle to actively control their body movements — a process which can be difficult and exhausting.

“Unlike many of the other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, symptoms of postural instability and gait disability are not always well-managed with traditional pharmacological therapies,” Dr Cole said.

“If left unmanaged, these symptoms significantly increase the risk of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease and can ultimately influence a patient’s independence and overall quality of life.”

Researchers measured participants who had received deep brain stimulation surgery for symptoms of severe gait freezing and postural instability not helped with medication. Patients ranged from having had the disease for four to 20 years.

Patients stood still for 30 seconds on a force plate, like a Wii balance board, to record the nearly invisible movements that the body makes to remain upright.

Using the information collected during this task, the research team explored the underlying autonomous control systems that maintain upright stance and are believed to be negatively affected in people with Parkinson’s.

Led by the Bionics Institute, the study also included researchers from St Vincent’s Hospital (Melbourne), the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Austin Hospital, the University of Queensland, Royal North Shore and North Shore Private Hospitals (NSW), John Radcliffe Hospital (Oxford), University of Melbourne, and the University of Oxford.


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