This is an archived article.

January 16, 1998

New pacemaker implant helps patients with tremor

A 70-year-old Bellevue man has become the first local resident to receive
a new treatment to alleviate the tremors associated with Parkinson’s
disease and Essential Tremor. The surgery, using an implanted
pacemaker-like device to deliver mild electrical stimulation to block the
brain signals that cause tremor, was performed Jan. 9 at Harborview by Dr.
Sean Grady, UW professor of neurological surgery, with assistance from Dr.
Jeffrey Slimp, UW associate professor of rehabilitation medicine.

The patient received immediate relief from his tremor following the 6-1/2
hour surgery, Grady said. The patient returned home after one night of
hospitalization at Harborview.

“This therapy offers new hope for patients with tremor, either from
Essential Tremor or from Parkinson’s disease,” Grady explained. “Tremor
can severely affect a patient’s quality of life as well as his or her
ability to function. Many people live with tremor because they believe
that nothing can be done. Now we can offer them an alternative.”

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and degenerative disease that affects
about 500,000 people in the U.S. Tremor is one symptom of Parkinson’s
disease and may be mild or disturbing, depending on the individual.
Essential Tremor, a different diagnosis from Parkinson’s disease, has as
its only symptom a tremor that is generally worse during voluntary
movement. An estimated million individuals have Essential Tremor, which
can also vary from mild to disabling. The new therapy has the potential to
help a significant number of individuals in both groups, Grady said.

The Activa Tremor Control System, developed by Medtronic, Inc., includes
an insulated wire lead that is surgically implanted deep within the
thalamus, the brain’s communication center. The lead is connected by an
extension wire passed under the skin to an implanted pulse generator,
similar to an advanced cardiac pacemaker. Patients control the stimulation
by passing a hand-held magnet over the implants pulse generator to turn it
on or off, or to vary simulation depending on their need to suppress
tremors.