Treatment can offer hope for relief of Parkinson’s symptoms

A non-invasive, home-based procedure to stimulate the inner ear and brain functions that control balance and eye movement can offer hope for the relief of Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

Research carried out by the University and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust involving a patient with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) provided evidence of behavioural improvement across some of the disease’s most common and debilitating symptoms.

Now the researchers, led by Dr David Wilkinson, of the School of Psychology, and Dr Mohamed Sakel, director of East Kent Neuro-Rehabilitation Service, are testing if the beneficial effects of the new treatment – which involves non-invasive, thermal stimulation of the balance organs – are evident in a larger group.

The study involved a 70-year-old male, diagnosed with PD seven years ago. He self-administered stimulation at home for two 20-minute sessions a day for three months using a portable device which, given its novelty, is at present exclusively for clinical investigation.

Standard neuropsychological assessments of motor, cognitive, affective and functional independence were carried out prior to stimulation, at the end of placebo (month 1) and active (months 2-3) phases, and five months post-stimulation.

Following one month of stimulation, the patient showed improvements in mobility, decision-making, sleep and well-being that exceeded the recognised threshold for a minimal clinically important difference; the patient was faster to get out of his chair and walk up and down, his memory improved, he slept better, he felt less pain and he was much less depressed. No improvement was seen during the placebo phase in which no active treatment was administered. Most importantly, the improvements observed during the stimulation phase were still evident five months after the treatment finished.

The research authors acknowledge that the inferential power of what is a single-case study is limited but argue that the improvement demonstrated, most notably at five months follow-up, suggest a level of patient benefit that is potentially transformative. The need for such study is reinforced by the fact that the current standard of care for PD – drug-therapy – often induces unpleasant side effects and loses its effect overtime.

The paper, A durable gain in motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease following repeated caloric vestibular stimulation: A single-case study (Dr David Wilkinson, Aleksandra Podlewska, University of Kent, and Dr Mohamed Sakel, East Kent Neuro-Rehabilitation Service) is published in the journal NeuroRehabilitation.