Parkinson’s disease strikes more patients as treatment improves

“I was working on the house and thought I had a stroke. I was shaking a lot,” he said. “I hesitated because I don’t like to see doctors. That caused a lot more problems. People don’t want to believe they have Parkinson’s. I tell people now the earlier you get treatment, the better it will be.”

Mary Sue Lanigan, CEO of the Michigan Parkinson Foundation in Bingham Farms, said many people get worse when they hesitate to see a doctor.

“They appear rigid, they have balance issues, they fall,” she said. “They have cognition problems, they freeze and are stuck in one place.”

Rutkowski sees his doctor at Mercy Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Rapids every three months, depending how things are going.

In 2007, he had a deep brain stimulation surgery, one of the treatments for Parkinson’s that reduces tremors, or dyskinesia, the involuntary movements.

“I was shaking so much and I didn’t want to be overmedicated…, so deep brain stimulation helped me,” Rutkowski said.

Albin, who heads up a movement disorder clinic that treats about 3,000 patients at Michigan Medicine, said medication is the first option. Patients also may need physical, occupational and speech therapy.

For those with severe tremors, deep brain stimulation can be a good surgical option when medications aren’t working well, Albin said. It helps relieve stiffness, allows more movement and may also reduce the severity of tremor.

“A device, which acts like a pacemaker for the heart, is surgically installed” to deliver mild electrical pulses to stimulate the brain’s motor region, Albin said. “It helps speed movement.”

Medications help because Parkinson’s is caused by the deterioration of nerve cells that make a chemical called dopamine. Drugs such as Levodopa help increase dopamine levels in the brain that can improve conditions.

Mental health is another side effect.

“Some have mood disorders that we and other a lot of groups have advance practice providers (physician assistants and nurse practitioners) handle them with counseling and medication management,” Albin said.

Brundin works closely with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services near Grand Rapids to help Parkinson’s patients with depression. He said more primary care doctors should collaborate more with mental health providers.

Rutkowski said he hasn’t experienced depression, primarily because he stays busy and volunteers as an advocate for Parkinson’s patients. “I get disappointed sometimes when I have difficulty getting up. It is a challenge, but it is part of your life now,” he said.