It doesn't matter how old a patient is, complications from deep brain stimulation seem to be similar across ages.

In a study published in JAMA Neurology, researchers, led by Michael DeLong, found that 7.5 percent of the patients who underwent deep brain stimulation had one complication within a three-month period, regardless of age.

"Parkinson's disease is one of the most common movement disorders and it primarily afflicts older people," said Nandan Lad, director of the lab where the project was carried out. "For many, movement disorders can be managed with medications. But as the disease progresses - and as people age - tremors and side effects of medication, including involuntary muscle movements, are less controllable."

Lad said it is these older patients who could benefit the most from the addition of deep brain stimulation to their treatment plan.

Deep brain stimulation is an effective treatment for advanced-level Parkinson's patients with involuntary movements. It is beneficial for reducing motor disability and improving overall quality of life. Previous research has shown that using DBS in combination with a medical regimen is more beneficial than only medical therapy.

In the study, data from 1,757 patients was collected. Of the patients, 7.5 percent had at least one complication within three months, and separating out age demographics did not impact the complication rates.

Deep brain stimulation involves placing a device called an implantable pulse generator, similar in size to a pacemaker, in different areas of the brain - in this case the areas that control movement. Then mild electrical shocks are sent to those areas of the brain. Currently, it is used as a last resort for patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled by medication.  

Researchers did find that older patients are more likely to develop pneumonia, but pneumonia is common in older people who have surgery in general according to study authors.

DBS is not a cure for Parkinson's nor does it slow the progression of neurodegeneration from the disease. It normally is used to help control symptoms. It may worsen cognitive function, however, and is therefore not generally used in patients with dementia.

Researchers hope that this study will be an advocate for the consideration of deep brain stimulation as a potential treatment option for managing Parkinson's symptoms as well as inform surgeons and physicians more about the risks of DBS in older patients.

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