Good vibrations for Parkinson's

September 27, 2010 A vibrating chair is doing for some Parkinson's patients what drugs cannot.

And this is even neater than the usual neat stuff. It's not high tech at all.

Parkinson's researchers took a trip back in time and found something much simpler than even pills.

If Dale Voelker had his way, this would be his office. "I wish I could golf every day."

Two years ago, Voelker was diagnosed with Parkinson's and thought his days on the links were over. "They keep saying there's a cure around the corner, cure around the corner, but I don't know. I can't wait."

His meds made him nauseous and drowsy, so he joined a clinical study for a more tolerable treatment.

"It's very relaxing. It puts me to sleep almost every time," Voelker said.

It's a vibration chair. The cushion connects to an amplifier.

"It's almost like there's a big sub-woofer in the mattress that vibrates the entire body," explained Dr. Sachin Kapur.

"They're sound waves that generate very strong vibrations. This is not a little buzz, this is not a little massage. This is a very strong vibration," added Dr. Christopher Goetz.

It's based on the work of a 19th century French doctor.

"He noticed that patients that went on a carriage ride or train trip, when they descended from the carriage, their Parkinsonism was much less," Goetz said.

Experts say the vibrations travel through the spinal cord to the brain, which may help with basic motor skills.

A Canadian study showed vibration therapy improved gait, stability and posture. It also decreased tremors and rigidity, and helped those who didn't respond to standard meds.

"It goes for about 40 minutes, and by the time I'm done, I'm almost stop shaking," Voelker said.

The chair isn't a cure, but it's how Dale Voelker spells relief. "It's like I get a little break."

The current study is still enrolling Parkinson's patients at Rush University Medical Center.

Patients sit in the chair for 30 minutes a day for one month.

PARKINSON'S DISEASE: Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that results from the death of dopamine-producing cells. There are four main symptoms including trembling in the arms, legs, hand, head, jaw, and face, rigidity, bradykinesia, or slowness of movement, and postural instability and loss of balance. As the disease progresses patients have a hard time completing everyday tasks like walking and talking. The disease typically affects people over the age of 50 and symptoms come on subtly and slowly. It is suspected that nearly one million Americans are living with it, and 60,000 were diagnosed last year. The numbers are suspected to increase due to the aging population. The disorder tends to be more common in women. Parkinson's is difficult to diagnose however, a neurologist can only look at the symptoms and diagnose the patient. (SOURCE: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

PARKINSON'S TREATMENTS: Currently there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but most victims of the disease don't need treatments for several years after the diagnosis because the symptoms are so mild. When the symptoms progress doctors will often treat the disease with levodopa (L-dopa), which helps replace the brain's lost dopamine. In extremely severe patients a brain surgery called pallidotomy has been affective in reducing symptoms. Lastly, there is another surgery where healthy dopamine-producing brain tissue is transplanted into the brain. Scientists are currently developing substances that will stop dopamine cells from dying. (SOURCE: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

GOOD VIBRATIONS: Jean-Martin Charcot was a 19th century neurologist who developed the vibrating chair after noticing that Parkinson's victims seemed more comfortable and had a reduction in symptoms after train and carriage rides. The vibrating chair is a non-traditional therapy method in which the person is subjected to not only body vibrations, but sound vibrations. The chair is equipped with strategically placed speakers that deliver low frequency vibrations throughout the body. The chair has shown to significantly impact the quality of life, and after gait (a way of walking) and posture tests the results showed significant improvement in both. When compared with conventional therapies used to treat Parkinson's, the vibration therapy was 25 percent more efficient in reversing clinical symptoms. In the trial tests the participants underwent the therapy for 15 minutes five days a week. The vibrations are more effective if done in time frames under 30 minutes. Scientists hope that use of both conventional and vibration therapies will reduce the symptoms greatly.

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