Perhaps the most well-known symptom of Parkinson’s disease is the tremors it causes. People with the disease exhibit uncontrollable movements such as shaking, swaying or trembling. Awareness of the condition was made much more public in 1998 when actor Michael J. Fox gave several televised interviews disclosing that he had been diagnosed with the disease seven years earlier. In those interviews his symptoms were very apparent.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease are caused by dying brain cells. These cells are responsible for dopamine production, and when levels of that chemical drop, messages to various muscles throughout the body are not received properly. Eventually, symptoms can vary from a noticeable slowness of movement to difficulty swallowing. The exact cause of the disease is still unknown and there are no guaranteed ways to accurately detect it.
There are several treatment options, though no cure exists. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and eating a more nutritious diet have been known to help. Many people with the disease opt to take medicine that increases dopamine function. The most serious and invasive treatment, however, is an elective form of brain surgery. It is by no means new, and is generally considered safe. CBS News reported that the surgery which was performed live this October has been done at least 80,000 times previously – though never before on television.
How the procedure works
The operation is known as deep brain stimulation. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it is only performed on individuals who do not respond to medication and therapy. Before the procedure, the surgeon has to locate which areas of the brain will be stimulated. To do this, he will scan the brain using an MRI machine. Once the areas have been identified, several small holes are made in the skull, through which an electrode is inserted into the brain.
The patient must be awake during the procedure. This is necessary because adjustments will be made throughout the multi-hour surgery and the patient will have to respond to them. Except for the initial entrance into the skull, the operation is painless – the brain has no pain receptors. Afterwards, the device can be adjusted should the patient’s condition change – it can even be removed completely without much hassle.
The man who was operated on during the live broadcast is an electrician from Ohio. He’s only 49 years old, but he’s had the disease for many years, reported National Geographic. Greg Grindley is a former Navy officer who has had trouble speaking and standing due to Parkinson’s disease. Up until now, he’s had to take medication every two hours to ward off the worst of the symptoms.
The operation went as smoothly as possible on October 25. There hasn’t been any word yet on how many people tuned in to watch the operation, but National Geographic reported that it was tweeted about over 16,000 times during the two-hour broadcast. Although the operation went well, it’s still too early to tell if Grindley’s symptoms are gone for good. During the operation, the electrodes were turned on and stopped nearly all of Grindley’s tremors. However, the electrodes must be turned off while the brain and surrounding area heals, a process that could take up to six months.
This operation means great things for the future of senior care. As advancements in detection, diagnosis and treatment get more affordable and practical, the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease will greatly improve. Live events like this one will raise awareness of the disease and the fight to cure it.
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