According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, approximately 1 million people in the US live with the disorder. The disease primarily affects a person’s movement, which can make it hard to carry out daily tasks. But new research suggests that deep brain stimulation may help Parkinson’s sufferers with one activity – driving.

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a treatment used to help patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, such as dystonia and essential tremor.

The treatment involves the use of electrodes that are implanted into specific areas of the patient’s brain.

The electrodes transmit electrical impulses that can regulate abnormal impulses within the brain, as well as regulate cells and chemicals in the brain.

The researchers from Germany say they were unsure how DBS would affect the driving skills of Parkinson’s disease sufferers.

“On the one hand, it might enhance driving ability by improving the motor problems which occur with Parkinson’s disease, but on the other hand, it might hamper driving because it potentially causes a decline in executive cognitive skills,” says Carsten Buhmann, of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany and study author.

To find out how Parkinson’s patients responded to DBS, the investigators analyzed 23 people with the condition who underwent the procedure, 21 Parkinson’s sufferers who did not have DBS and 21 people who were free of Parkinson’s disease.

All subjects had been driving for a minimum of once a week for more than 30 minutes, 3 years prior to the beginning of the study, and they were required to undergo testing with a driving simulator.

The individuals who underwent DBS were required to complete the driving simulator three times. The first was with the electrodes on, the second time was with them off, and the third was with the electrodes off after they took the Parkinson’s drug levodopa.

At the end of the driving simulator tests, the researchers compared driving errors among all groups.

The results, published in the journal Neurology, reveal that the subjects with Parkinson’s disease who did not undergo DBS performed the worst in every driving category except one, compared with participants without Parkinson’s.

However, individuals with Parkinson’s who had DBS did not perform any worse than those without the condition, and they even obtained better results in one driving category that looked at “slight errors.”

In detail, Parkinson’s patients who had DBS had an average of 3.8 in the slight errors test, while patients without the condition had 7.5 and Parkinson’s patients who did not have DBS had 11.4 in the test.

Furthermore, the researchers found that Parkinson’s participants who carried out the driving test when the electrodes were on had more accurate driving, compared with subjects who carried out the test when the electrodes were off after taking levodopa.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that a compound commonly given off by a fungus could cause symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.