Parkinson's Treatment Could Work For OCD, Too Deep brain stimulation involves placing electrodes far into brain tissue. It's best known as a way to alleviate Parkinson's tremors. Now doctors are using it to reduce symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. "My mind was free of this stuff that had been in there for years," said one patient who received the treatment.
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Parkinson's Treatment Could Work For OCD, Too

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Parkinson's Treatment Could Work For OCD, Too

Parkinson's Treatment Could Work For OCD, Too

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Jon Hamilton has the story.

JON HAMILTON: Mike is in his late 40s. He says a lot of his compulsions involve cars.

MIKE: Check outside of the door. Check inside the door - check the brakes. Check under the tires.

HAMILTON: And Mike says once he's on the road, every bump can make him wonder if he's just hit something. He says one night his OCD actually got him stuck in a quiet neighborhood.

MIKE: I was driving around for 30 minutes to 45 minutes. I'd go back where I thought I hit something, go check it. And I'd have to do that until it felt just right. And then sometimes when I was rolling around to go back and check again, I would roll over something else. So now I have two things to check.

HAMILTON: For nearly three decades, Mike tried the usual treatments, but he was still constantly checking faucets so the house wouldn't flood, and light switches, so there wouldn't be a fire. He couldn't hold a job. He was living with his parents.

MIKE: A couple of years ago, I was like, just kind of alone, no friends and just wracked with this stuff day in and day out. And, you know, it was just miserable.

HAMILTON: Greenberg says stimulation has the advantage of being reversible.

BEN GREENBERG: But it does involve, you know, holes in the skull and indefinitely having devices in you and being tied to a center that is expert and can program these devices.

HAMILTON: Stimulation helps about half the people who get it. Greenberg says it appears to reduce people's symptoms by altering brain circuits involved in mood and behavior.

GREENBERG: What they get is a lot more hours in their day and a lot more ability to function, so the hours are not consumed by these intrusive obsessions and these irresistible compulsions.

HAMILTON: Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation, says deep brain stimulation is a good option for people who've run out of other options.

JEFF SZYMANSKI: You're several years into someone feeling not only very debilitated, but very demoralized. And very desperate in terms of, you know, maybe they aren't able to get out of their house. They're in some cases not able to really take care of themselves.

HAMILTON: For Mike, deep brain stimulation changed everything. Because he was part of a study, he spent three months not knowing whether his device was on or off. And he wasn't feeling any better. Then he made a fateful visit to Dr. Greenberg.

MIKE: He turned it on, oh, probably a little less than two months ago, and I could feel immediately a big difference. I knew at that point that it wasn't on the first three months.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HAMILTON: Mike says his OCD symptoms got less intrusive, including his need to constantly check things while driving.

MIKE: It was really like my mind was free of this stuff that had been in there for years, and it was easier for my brain to turn it off a little bit.

HAMILTON: Did you drive a car to the studio today?

MIKE: Yes. Yeah. And I...

HAMILTON: And did you check?

MIKE: Just a little bit.

HAMILTON: Jon Hamilton, NPR News.

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