Many people have a least some knowledge of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects approximately one million Americans. Parkinson’s symptoms are complex and have a severe impact on quality of life. Fortunately advances in research have found treatments, such as TMS for Parkinson’s, that can reduce symptoms and improve the overall quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s.
What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)?
TMS is an FDA approved non-invasive, sedation-free treatment technique that stimulates specific parts of the brain in order to correct areas that may not be performing optimally. Magnetic pulses are sent to targeted areas of the brain to stimulate underperforming areas, or slow down overactive areas, and help them work more effectively.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects specific brain cells — specifically neurons that produce dopamine. As dopamine levels fall brain activity can become abnormal, leading to Parkinson’s symptoms. Early signs of Parkinson’s disease are typically subtle, such as a slight hand tremor, arms that no longer swing when walking, softened or garbled speech, and an incapacity to make facial expressions. However, the majority of Parkinson’s patients develop symptoms later in the disease’s progression. Other symptoms can include:
- Small handwriting
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of smell
- Dizziness and fainting
- Having a hunched-over posture
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are typically mild and do not interfere with daily activities in the early stages. Unfortunately, this tends to change over time, and movement begins to slow and become more challenging. In the later stages of the disease, the person may require a wheelchair or 24-hour care.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
Scientists don’t know what exactly causes Parkinson’s disease. While the illness itself is not fatal, the complications can have a large impact on quality of life. Parkinson’s disease complications include:
- Difficulty thinking
- Chronic pain
- Development of physiological conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Evolution of sleep disorders such as REM sleep behavior disorder and insomnia
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing and eating
- Constipation and bladder problems
- Changes in blood pressure
Age, genes, and gender influence the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, although the disease is most common in middle-aged and older adults. If you have a family history of Parkinson’s disease, you are more likely to develop it due to specific genetic mutations that may cause it. Additionally, Parkinson’s disease is more common in men than in women.
Historical Treatments for Parkinson’s
Doctors may prescribe dopaminergic drugs to help patients produce more dopamine. Surgery is another option, commonly involving the implantation of a deep brain stimulator, which uses electrical pulses to animate the parts of the brain that control movement. However, deep brain stimulators can negatively influence cognition or memory and are ineffective in treating Parkinson’s non-motor symptoms.
How Does TMS for Parkinson’s Help?
Research into using TMS as a treatment approach in treating Parkinson’s showed improved motor movements, especially in combination with regular aerobic exercises. Other research has found that stimulating two areas of the brain’s premotor associative cortex, rather than just one, reduces axial symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.
TMS for Parkinson’s treatment appears to help increase the cortical silent period, according to the studies. In research participants, the period of improvement lasted about one month. As a result, patients who undergo continuous TMS therapy in conjunction with aerobic exercise may experience significant improvements that last much longer.