Researchers at the University of Kiel in Germany have found that an established treatment for advanced Parkinson's disease also appears to lead to dramatic improvements in those at a less advanced stage of the disease.
The study1 took 251 people with early-stage Parkinson's and divided them into two groups. The first group received the usual medication, whilst the second group was given the same medication together with a precise form of surgery that involved placing small electrodes into the parts of their brains that were damaged by Parkinson's.
These electrodes provided an electrical stimulation to the surrounding brain tissues. Researchers wanted to find out if the beneficial effect that this stimulation provided to those with more advanced Parkinson's, also benefited those with early stages of the disease.
The study focused on the quality of life of the subjects over two years, using a specific questionnaire that assessed areas of daily function affected by Parkinson's. By the end of the two years, the medication groups' quality of life scores had decreased by 1% - whereas the medication plus electro-stimulation group scores actually increased by an average of 24%.
Although the study group was relatively small and further research needs to be carried out on larger groups, these findings are extremely promising and could change the way early-stage Parkinson's is treated.
1. Schuepbach WMM, Rau J, Knudsen K, et al. Neurostimulation for Parkinson's Disease with Early Motor Complications. New England Journal of Medicine. Published online February 14 2013