Focused ultrasound helping Parkinson's patients

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine looked at how brain surgery using focused ultrasound affected Parkinson's patients.

According to a release, the scalpel-free surgery that uses sound waves resulted in improved quality of life for people with Parkinson's that has resisted other forms of treatment.

The researchers concluded the treatment offers “comprehensive evidence of safety” in terms of the approach's effect on mood, behavior and cognitive ability.

These areas have not been significantly explored in previous research.

“In our initial study that looked at the outcomes of focused ultrasound surgery n Parkinson's disease, we primarily described post-operative improvements in motor symptoms, specifically tremor,” said Scott Sperling, PsyD, a clinical neuropsychologist at UVA. “In this study, we extended these initial results and showed that focused ultrasound thalamotomy is not only safe from a cognitive and mood perspective, but that patients who underwent surgery realized significant and sustained benefits in terms of functional disability and overall quality of life.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved focused ultrasound for the treatment of essential tremor, which is the most common movement disorder.

Since then, the technology has demonstrated the potential to reduce tremor in people with drug-resistant Parkinson's disease.

The treatment uses focused sound waves to interrupt faulty brain circuits that cause uncontrollable shaking that is associated with Parkinson's.

The new study looked at the effects on 27 adults with severe Parkinson's tremor that had not responded to previous treatments.

After receiving the treatment, participants reported improved quality of life, including the ability to perform simple daily tasks and emotional well-being.

The study also took an in-depth look at the psychological and cognitive effects of the procedure, finding that mood and cognition and the ability to go about daily life, had more effect on participants' assessment of their overall quality of life than the amount of improvement seen in their tremors after the procedure.

“A person's perception of their quality of life is shaped in many different ways,” said Sperling. “Mood and behavioral symptoms, such as depression, anxiety and apathy, often have a greater impact on quality of life than the measurable severity of one's tremor.”

The release says the only cognitive declines that were seen were in how quickly participants were able to name colors and think of and speak words. The cause of this was not clear, but researchers suggest it could be a result of the natural progression of Parkinson's.

Focused ultrasound is being tested to treat only the tremor associated with Parkinson's, not other symptoms of the disease.

The researchers did note the study was limited by its small size and the participants' medication doses varied as well as other factors.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Neurology.

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