Innovative Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease

Hydrotherapy photo by OakleyOriginals. License: CC BY 2.0.

Parkinson’s is a chronic disease that gets worse as time goes on, impacting the way people move and their balance. It primarily causes tremors, but it is also responsible for a variety of other symptoms such as stiffness, jerky movement, a weak voice and more.

You may not realize it, but Parkinson’s plagues the bodies of nearly one million Americans. However, on a global scale, more than 4 million people are affected while close to 60,000 new cases are reported and diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

A majority of the problems caused by Parkinson’s arise because dopamine production in the brain is lacking. This happens when brain cells misfire or die. These cells, called neurons, send electrical signals from the brain to other cells in the body. This can cause significant issues in motor skills.

Dealing With Parkinson’s

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation says aging is a major contributor to the disorder. For those over the age of 60, there is a 2 to 4 percent risk compared to 1 or 2 percent for the younger population. Furthermore, the disease is more often diagnosed at a later age, with the average age for diagnosis 62.

The most common way to deal with Parkinson’s is to prescribe medication, which may alleviate some of the problems, but it can also create others in the form of side effects. In fact, there are several concerning long-term side effects in some patients, such as compulsive and destructive behavior. Medication can definitely help those suffering from the disease, but as with most things it has its limitations.

That’s why sometimes it’s a good idea to try something different, such as innovative and cutting edge therapies. Believe it or not, there are a couple of relatively new methods for treating the disease that may be of interest to you or your loved ones.

Innovative Options: Now and in the Future

Another form of therapy for Parkinson’s patients is a type of invasive surgery that calls for opening the skull and placing tiny electrodes in the brain to substitute for the missing neurons. This is generally used as a last resort, and it has its drawbacks, as does using the appropriate medication.

But what if there was a way to deal with the disease and its symptoms in a non-invasive manner? What if there was something that didn’t require taking a pill, which can create a multitude of other problems along with it?

The STIMband Headset

Ian Graham, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Johns Hopkins, and a team of biomedical engineers have invented a headpiece that can be used to stimulate the brain cells of those with Parkinson’s through the use of electrodes. It has been dubbed by the team behind it the STIMband. They are set to start clinical trials sometime within the next year, with further progress to come after testing.

The biggest benefit of the STIMband headset is that it’s meant to be used at home. Patients won’t have to sit in a hospital or clinic for treatments, and it should help with a majority of the tremor and balance issues that come from the disease.

According to Graham the headband works wonders. “I’ve seen a patient come in, and after treatment he had to sign his name,” Graham said. “He said he hadn’t been able to write like that in years.”

The engineers hope to achieve FDA approval after more testing is complete. The team estimates the device would probably cost between $600 to $1,000, depending on the materials and hardware that are used.

Hydrotherapy

A proprietary headset is not the only type of non-invasive treatment, however. Those with Parkinson’s can also turn to hydrotherapy, otherwise known as pool therapy.

Physical therapists take their patients — namely seniors — and rehabilitate them through water-based exercises. Since Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, the regular exercise and physical stimulation delays a majority of symptoms. Furthermore, patients generally see an improvement in their balance, control and motor skills. This can be attributed to the increase in dopamine, which is a direct result of staying active.

Of course, it’s extremely important that the optimal pool temperature of 90-92 degrees Fahrenheit is used for therapy so patients aren’t cold. Lower temperatures can worsen the tremors and shivering from Parkinson’s.

More Help Is On the Way

If you’re looking for a treatment you can use today, you’ll have to try for the hydrotherapy. Sadly, the STIMband headset isn’t quite ready for widespread medical use just yet. Still, it’s good to know more help is on the way, and it’s incredibly promising.

Hydrotherapy photo by OakleyOriginals. License: CC BY 2.0.