(ORDO NEWS) — People with advanced Parkinson’s often can’t walk more than a few steps or sleep through the night, but a new study offers hope for relief from these two debilitating symptoms.
The degenerative disease, which affects millions of people around the world, destroys motor functions and often leaves patients in a bed or wheelchair in its advanced stages.
This is due to a condition called orthostatic hypotension, which occurs when a person stands up and their blood pressure drops, causing dizziness and even fainting after a few steps.
In people with Parkinson’s disease, this is due to a malfunction of the regulator in the brain that normally ensures sufficient blood flow to the brain when we stand up.
But a new French study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a spinal cord implant could help patients with advanced Parkinson’s get back on their feet.
Improving the quality of life
Earlier this year, neurosurgeons Jocelyn Bloch and Grégoire Courtin reported that such an implant allowed three paralyzed people to walk again.
Both of them also took part in the latest study, during which a similar implant was tested on a 48-year-old woman.
Although this woman did not have Parkinson’s disease, her symptoms, including orthostatic hypotension, were so similar that she was initially diagnosed with the disease.
For paralyzed people, a spinal cord implant mimics how the brain sends electrical impulses to muscles, repairing a broken connection.
But in orthostatic hypotension, it stimulates a regulator in the brain that senses the need for blood flow when a person is standing upright.
Before the implant was placed, the woman would pass out after a few steps.
Three months after the operation, she was able to walk more than 250 meters (820 feet) using a walking frame, the study said.
“She’s not cured, she won’t run a marathon, but this surgery has clearly improved her quality of life,” Bloch told AFP.
However, this is an isolated case and further research is needed, especially in patients with Parkinson’s disease.”
It is not yet certain that the orthostatic hypotension observed in patients with Parkinson’s disease can be eliminated only by stimulating the regulator targeted by the implant.
Insomnia is another common scourge of the 10 million people with Parkinson’s disease worldwide, more than three-quarters of whom have sleep-related symptoms, according to the Parkinson Foundation.
Sleep can be affected by uncontrollable shaking that wakes patients up, and another factor is the lack of dopamine that is common in people with Parkinson’s disease.
The drug apomorphine is commonly used to replace dopamine, reducing symptoms such as tremors and stiffness.
But when taken orally, the drug can cause dopamine to spike and then drop, leading to muscle spasms.
An insulin pump-like device that delivers apomorphine continuously throughout the night could solve this problem, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Lancet Neurology.
Study co-author Emmanuel Flamand-Roze did previous research showing the pump could help with Parkinson’s disease, but the new study looked at how it helps with sleep.
A randomized trial found that those who used the pump had “significantly improved” sleep compared to those who received a placebo.
Flamand-Rose told AFP that the “limitations of wearing a small pump” are far less during the night compared to wearing such a device all day.
However, because the study had a small sample size of less than 50 people and focused on people already at an advanced stage of Parkinson’s disease, further research is needed.
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