The sudden inability to move while walking, or feeling like your feet are stuck to the ground, is called “freezing of gait.” This symptom may arise as Parkinson’s disease (PD) progresses, and can lead to stumbling or falling. Unfortunately, current medications and surgical options, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), don’t typically eliminate the problem. The same goes for cognitive (memory and thinking) problems: They may come on to varied degrees at any time in the course of PD, and available treatments are limited.
A new study funded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation suggests that non-invasive brain stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), may help freezing of gait and cognition. Transcranial direct current stimulation delivers low levels of electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain through electrodes placed on the head.
In the randomized, placebo-controlled study, published in the journal Movement Disorders, researchers tested tDCS in 20 people with Parkinson’s. For 20 minutes on three separate visits, participants received stimulation in part of the brain that controls movement, stimulation in parts of the brain that control movement and cognition (memory and thinking) simultaneously, or placebo stimulation (tingling but no effective stimulation). Those who received stimulation in parts of the brain that control movement and cognition showed immediate improvements on tests of walking and thinking.
The researchers are now studying tDCS in a larger group of patients to evaluate long-term benefits and safety. (Note that tDCS is not yet a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved treatment for Parkinson’s or any other condition.)
Additional work is ongoing in freezing and cognition. Gait and balance are a priority area for The Michael J. Fox Foundation and we’re building a roadmap to determine the underlying causes of these symptoms; track and predict falls; and develop more effective therapies, including treatments based in technology.