(StatePoint) Ken Girlardo knew something was wrong when his hand started shaking uncontrollably to the point he couldn't pour his morning coffee. In July 2010, Girlardo was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD).
PD is the second most common progressive, neurodegenerative condition, affecting more than one million people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While PD can't be cured, people with the condition are typically treated with medications to manage their symptoms. Unfortunately, the frequent use of some drugs can be associated with side effects such as involuntary movements and motor fluctuations, and over time the medications become less effective.
After Girlardo's diagnosis, he started taking medications and increased his dosage as the disease progressed. "At one point, I was taking as many as eight pills a day to manage my PD," says Girlardo. "I don't want to say I was discouraged, because I don't let anything discourage me, but it was a pain to be disabled." Taking the drugs took a toll on his lifestyle as he could no longer do the things he loved, like play golf and fish with his grandchildren, or the things he needed to do, like change the oil in his car. He needed his wife's help for everything from getting dressed to walking through the grocery store.
"We thought there wasn’t really anything you could do about it," says Barb, Girlardo's wife.
Girlardo became hopeful once his doctor told him he was a candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS), a technology helping some people manage the symptoms of PD when medication alone is no longer effective. DBS uses a small medical device that is implanted in the body and connected to leads that stimulate a portion of the brain to control the motor functions affected by movement disorders, including tremors, slowness and rigidity.
While this treatment option has been available for some time, until recently, physicians have had to rely on older DBS technology. In December 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Boston Scientific Vercise DBS System, which is designed to be more easily adapted to a patient's specific needs and is engineered to allow for targeted stimulation therapy delivery.
"Since being implanted with my DBS System, I feel like I got my life back. Now, I'm not taking any medications for PD. I can dress myself, chop vegetables, tie knots and drive without worry," says Girlardo, who received the Vercise DBS System in March. "It was like hitting the lottery with the results."
To learn more, visit DBSandMe.com, a resource developed by Boston Scientific.
If you have PD, talk to your doctor about the most appropriate treatment, and if a DBS system could be an option for you.