Dr. Susan Bressman knows the brain like the back of her hand. Having chosen movement disorders as her specialty more than 30 years ago, she is now the Chair of the Mirken Department of Neurology at Beth Israel Medical Center and has treated countless numbers of patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Parkinson’s is a chronic disorder affecting nerve cells in the area of the brain that controls muscle movement.
As a renowned neurological researcher, it’s ironic that so much of her practice comes not from the brain but from the heart. “Parkinson’s research and technology are crucial, but so much of what we do is about caring for the person. We become very close to our patients and their families,” Dr. Bressman says of the entire neurology team.
Early Parkinson’s disease symptoms
Surprisingly, the very first signs of Parkinson’s disease have nothing to do with movement; they include sleep disturbances, chronic constipation and a loss of the sense of smell. While these symptoms can easily be overlooked as a normal part of aging, other telltale signs might also accompany them:
- Change in gait (how you walk)
- Change in handwriting
- Tremors in the hand or foot
- Softer speech, and mumbling
- Diminished blinking and smiling
- Muscle stiffness or limited range of motion
“The best advice I can give is to place care in the hands of a movement disorders expert as soon as possible,” says Dr. Bressman. “We have many resources to help slow the progression of the disease and maintain quality of life.”
Personalized care improves outlooks
Because these symptoms are lifelong conditions, patients get to know many specialists very well, including psychologists and social workers; speech and physical therapists; and exercise instructors (think yoga and tai chi for balance.) There are also several Parkinson’s disease support groups.
Beth Israel a hub for Parkinson’s research
According to Dr. Bressman, there is a lot reason for hope. “In the last five years, movement disorders research has really taken off,” she says. Beth Israel neurologists are participating in and leading some of the latest studies in movement disorders. One group identified a number of dystonia genes that can lead to future treatments for that and other movement disorders.
“Today, most patients can be treated with drugs that help control their symptoms. If that’s not enough, a surgical alternative is available. Deep brain stimulation provides a more continuous way of controlling the motor symptoms,” says Dr. Bressman.
Many other ongoing clinical trials and research collaborations are in progress to study experimental drugs, gene therapy, and neuroimaging to uncover more information about how the brain works.
Learn more about Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders by visiting chpnyc.org or calling 1-855-411-LWNY (5969).