How DBS can help improve Parkinson’s mobility issues


sponsored by Medtronic

Author: MedtronicPublished: 24 January 2018

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Maria Alice and family lead

Maria Alice was only 24 when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This is the story of how DBS surgery turned her life around

In 1995, Maria Alice, a cook living in Portugal, noticed that her fingers and thumbs were shaking. She had also started to have trouble sleeping. Concerned, she went to the doctor. She was only 24.

“I was a 24-year-old woman. My life was great and I had my job – I was a cook in a private school. I had friends, a social life. I went out, had fun and I just loved to dance. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t Parkinson’s disease.”

Her reaction to her diagnosis was disbelief, then shock and denial. As the disease progressed, her tremors worsened, leaving her with difficulty walking. On top of that, her medication gave her dyskinesia, causing involuntary twitches and nervous tics. She became embarrassed to leave the house for fear of other people’s reactions. Work became impossible.

Maria says: “Bad things happen. But I still had my pride. I could choose to sit in perpetual sadness, or I could choose to treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself.”

Discovering alternative treatments

After living with her symptoms for 16 years, Maria Alice decided to seek help. She met with Professor Rui Vaz at Hospital São João in Porto, Portugal, and found, to her relief, that she was a good candidate for deep brain stimulation therapy (DBS), a treatment for the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s, including tremor, stiffness, or difficulty moving.

Professor Rui Vaz explains: “We are used to DBS having significant impact on the quality of life of patients. We see them becoming able to do normal daily activities like dressing, washing, going out, and even driving. It gives them back much of the happiness that the disease has stolen. This is why this surgery is highly rewarding.”

Maria was hopeful: “Of course, I had great hopes when the doctor explained how DBS works and how it could help.”

Professor Rui Vaz

Professor Rui Vaz

Taking her life back

Maria underwent the surgery in 2009. The treatment turned Maria’s life around, improving her mobility and enabling her to feel “normal” again.

She says: “The surgery exceeded my expectations. After surgery I slowly I started to get back to my old life. It was better than winning the lottery. Before, I always felt ashamed being around people without being able to control those involuntary movements, but now I can go to any place with my friends and feel normal beside them.”

“I stopped twitching, I could dress myself, I could walk and I could even dance again!”

In 2012, three years after the operation, her mobility had improved significantly and she moved to a village near Pedrogão Grande, Portugal, to help take care of her parents and their animals.

Five years later, when devastating forest fires struck the area, she was able to save her family, and prevent greater damage to their house and livestock – something she says she would have been physically unable to do before the therapy. She says: “It was all very fast and there was nobody else around. But I was able to save everything”.

Reflecting on the effect of the treatment on Maria and other people with Parkinson’s, Professor Rui Vaz says: “I believe it’s our duty to continue working together on the development of this therapy so that in the future we can treat more patients with movement disorders.”

Maria is adamant that the treatment has changed her life. She says: “When you have nearly lost so much, you learn to treasure the little things. I feel great because I have my house, my independence and I am very happy. I now look forward to the future – I hope to have peace, tranquillity and of course, some dancing.”

Medtronic ACTIVA™ RC Neurostimulator

Medtronic ACTIVA™ RC Neurostimulator

What is DBS therapy?

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy is a treatment for the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s, including tremor, stiffness, or difficulty moving.

Just like a pacemaker for the heart, a small neurostimulator is surgically placed under the skin of the chest or abdomen. The device sends electrical pulses through extension cables to the leads and electrodes that are placed in an area of the brain that controls movement. These pulses disrupt some of the brain’s messages that cause the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. DBS therapy is reversible and can be discontinued at any time by turning off the neurostimulator, or surgically removing the device. Medtronic helped pioneer DBS, and more than 150,000 patients worldwide have received Medtronic DBS Therapy.

For comprehensive information on deep brain stimulation and Parkinson’s, please visit the European Parkinson’s Disease Association (Parkinson’s Europe) website.

About Medtronic ACTIVA™ RC Neurostimulator

Medtronic offers the first DBS neurostimulators approved for MRI full body under specific conditions of use*. Only Medtronic ACTIVA™ neurostimulators allow MRI examinations with continuous therapy – this means that stimulation does not have to be interrupted, allowing patients to remain as comfortable as possible during an MRI. The Medtronic ACTIVA™ RC neurostimulator now has a battery life of 15 years – proven by in-the-field, real-world data. Professor Rui Vaz said: “That does more than let us ‘fit it and forget it’ – it gives patients the confidence to know it will always be working – in their daily life and when they need it most.”

Results may vary from patient to patients. Not everyone who receives Medtronic DBS Therapy will experience the same results. Some people may experience significant symptom relief from DBS Therapy, and others may experience minimal relief. Talk to your doctor to see if Medtronic DBS Therapy is right for you. For further information, please consult your healthcare professional who can explain the benefits, risks and important safety information.

*Refer to the instructions for use for detailed information regarding the implant procedure, indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, MRI compatibility of specific ACTIVA devices, MRI conditional labelling and potential adverse events.

Visit the Medtronic website for more information about Medtronic ACTIVA™ RC Extended Neurostimulator.

 This article is sponsored by Medtronic. The information in this article is given for information purposes only and does not represent an endorsement by Parkinson’s Europe of any particular treatments, products or companies. This article is not a substitute for advice from your doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. Parkinson’s Life makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness or accuracy of information provided.

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