While it’s not for everyone, deep brain stimulation can offer long-term benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty with movement and coordination. Symptoms progress over time. Medications that increase your dopamine levels can typically manage them.

One of the main goals of Parkinson’s disease treatment is to slow the rate at which your symptoms progress. Medications are usually effective, but only for a certain period of time. Aside from medications, there aren’t many treatment options for Parkinson’s.

However, deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that can be considered when medications are no longer a viable option.

In this procedure, a surgeon implants an electrical device into your brain that stimulates the affected areas and helps manage your symptoms.

A number of different markers determine the success rate of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s. Overall, the most important is its effectiveness at managing symptoms such as tremors.

Researchers in a 2019 study followed about 200 participants who received deep brain stimulation for over 10 years. The results showed that 75% of participants felt the procedure helped them manage their symptoms.

Generally, research has shown that deep brain stimulation is successful at managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

While the procedure is usually considered after about 4 years since diagnosis, some studies have looked at its effect when performed earlier.

For example, a small 2020 study measured the effectiveness of the procedure between 6 months and 4 years since diagnosis. After following participants for 5 years, researchers found that deep brain stimulation helped reduce the need for medications. This means it was effective at managing symptoms.

Another factor in the success rate is whether deep brain stimulation can improve survival. This is important because severe Parkinson’s symptoms can result in fractures requiring hospitalization, pneumonia, and untimely death.

One 2014 study showed a clear improvement in survival in about 100 people with severe Parkinson’s. It was unclear exactly why deep brain stimulation extended survival, but it was nevertheless shown to do so.

Deep brain stimulation is generally regarded as capable of reducing progression. This means it doesn’t necessarily stop progression but rather helps slow it down. This effect seems to be more apparent the earlier it’s performed, according to a 2018 study.

One of the most difficult aspects of Parkinson’s disease is its progressive nature. Over time, a part of your brain degenerates, which results in worsened symptoms. It’s not fully understood why the progression continues or how to reverse it.

Is DBS a long-term treatment?

Once performed, deep brain stimulation is a procedure you can expect to use for the rest of your life. This is because the procedure is aimed at providing you with daily, long-term symptom management.

It’s hoped that after having the procedure done, you’ll be able to successfully manage your symptoms for as long as possible. This makes it a great option when medications aren’t quite working anymore.

The percentage of people with Parkinson’s disease who get deep brain stimulation is rather low. This is partially because not everyone with Parkinson’s is a good candidate for deep brain stimulation. There may be other barriers, too, such as cost and overall health.

One 2015 study estimated that about 2% of people who qualified for the treatment actually received it. The true percentage may be higher, but larger studies are needed to confirm it.

Who is not a good candidate for deep brain stimulation?

If medication seems to manage your symptoms well and you’re not having any significant side effects, you’re generally not a good candidate for deep brain stimulation. People with mild cases of Parkinson’s are also not considered good candidates.

Deep brain stimulation is not a good option if you meet the following criteria:

  • You’ve had Parkinson’s for fewer than 4 years.
  • You’re not experiencing complications from medications.
  • You’re not fit for surgery.
  • You currently have additional illnesses.

One of the major downsides to deep brain stimulation is that it requires two separate surgeries. One surgery inserts electrical wires into your brain, and the other surgery implants a controller device under your collarbone.

For the surgeries to be as precise as possible, it’s preferred that you’re kept awake throughout these procedures. This can be a frightening experience for some people.

Once the surgeries are complete, you’ll also have to live with the controller under your collarbone. It’s battery-operated, which means the batteries have to be periodically changed.

Another downside is the cost of the surgery. A 2016 review estimates the initial surgery costs about $35,000 per year, for about 5 years. Insurance may or may not cover it.

Deep brain stimulation can be an effective therapy for certain cases of Parkinson’s disease. It’s been shown to have long-term benefits and can also slow the rate of disease progression.

Not everyone is a good candidate for deep brain stimulation, though. There are considerations and qualifying factors to take into account before the procedure can be offered to you.

Since the procedure is a lifelong commitment, it’s best to talk it through with a doctor and loved one who can help you make an informed decision.

If your medications have stopped working, however, deep brain stimulation may be a good option for you.