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The Latest Treatments for Parkinson’s to Discuss With Your Doctor

Casey Kelly-Barton
By Casey Kelly-BartonApril 18, 2018

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, which means it’s a good time to get up to speed on the latest treatment options for the disease.

There’s not yet a cure for Parkinson’s, but physicians and researchers are always seeking new ways to treat the cognitive decline and movement disorders it causes. They’re also refining and improving existing treatments to make them more effective and reviewing others to ensure that they work as expected.

The Latest Treatments for Parkinson’s

Here are a few new or updated options you may want to talk about with your doctor:

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1. A simple new way to assess Parkinson’s dementia risk.

In March, a group of researchers from Canada, Japan and Sweden published an eight-point checklist that they used to effectively predict which Parkinson’s patients would develop dementia. On the list:

  • Age younger than 70
  • Being male
  • Falling or step-freezing while walking
  • History of REM behavior disorder, which causes night terrors and sleepwalking
  • Low blood pressure when standing
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Other health conditions
  • Visual hallucinations

The study, conducted over the course of 11 years with more than 600 Parkinson’s patients, found that patients with four of the eight checklist signs and symptoms were likely to develop dementia within four years. The study authors say their Montreal Parkinson Risk of Dementia Scale is a simple, low-cost way for physicians to assess patients and help them plan their care. If dementia is a concern for you or a loved one with Parkinson’s, you may want to ask your doctor about an evaluation using the scale.

2. FDA will keep monitoring Nuplazid for Parkinson’s psychosis patients.

Nuplazid went on the U.S. market in 2016 to help late-stage Parkinson’s patients who suffer from psychosis. A recent CNN report earlier this month stated that since then, there have been 244 deaths of patients taking the drug and more than a thousand reports of patients who continued to hallucinate while on Nuplazid. The drug’s manufacturer says that the data may reflect the fact that Nuplazid is intended for people with advanced Parkinson’s, many of whom are in poor overall health.

The FDA responded to the CNN report by saying it will keep monitoring Nuplazid, which was approved through an expedited process and the Parkinson’s Foundation recommended that people taking Nuplazid talk with their doctors about the benefits and risks.

3. New developments in deep brain stimulation surgery.

Deep brain stimulation is not a new treatment for Parkinson’s dyskinesia, but it’s taken a while for the procedure to gain widespread acceptance. That’s probably in part due to the fact that DBS requires a neurosurgeon to implant an electrical lead in the brain while the patient is awake, followed by surgery to implant a controller to stimulate specific parts of the brain to stop tremors.

Now, Denver neurosurgeon Dr. David VanSickle has developed a way for patients to undergo the DBS surgery safely while under anesthesia. The “Asleep DBS” procedure also takes less time than the traditional awake surgery. Dr. VanSickle is training other neurosurgeons in the Asleep DBS method. If you or a loved one is a candidate for DBS, you may want to ask your doctor about the pros and cons of the “awake” and “asleep” versions of the operation.

4. Possible impulse control benefits from an existing Parkinson’s therapy.

Duopa has been available to Parkinson’s patients in the U.S. since 2015 to help late-stage patients avoid the “off periods” that often happen after a few years of taking oral medication to control movement symptoms. It provides a combination of carbidopa/levodopa that is pumped as a gel directly into the body through a surgically created opening in the abdomen.

Although Duopa’s main purpose is helping patients avoid tremors and movement freezing throughout the day, Spanish researchers recently published a study showing that the therapy may also reduce some instances of impulse control disorders that are common in late-stage Parkinson’s. Among the behaviors that improved among patients in the study were compulsive eating and medication-taking, compulsive hobby behaviors and impulsively and repetitively taking things apart and then putting them back together.

The study authors say there needs to be more study to compare the effectiveness of Duopa for impulse control to other Parkinson’s medications. For now, it’s still worth raising the topic with the doctor if you or a loved one have Parkinson’s-related impulse control issues and are considering Duopa for motor function.

Learn more about the latest treatments for Parkinson’s disease and how to find care for a family member with Parkinson’s.

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Casey Kelly-Barton
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