Background: Balance impairment is one of the most distressing symptoms in Parkinson's disease (PD) even with pharmacological treatment (levodopa). A complementary treatment is high frequency stimulation in the subthalamic nucleus (STN). Whether STN stimulation improves postural control is under debate. The aim of this study was to explore the effects of STN stimulation alone on balance performance as assessed with clinical performance tests, subjective ratings of fear of falling and posturography.
Methods: Ten patients (median age 66, range 59-69 years) with bilateral STN stimulation for a minimum of one year, had their anti-PD medications withdrawn overnight. Assessments were done both with the STN stimulation turned OFF and ON (start randomized). In both test conditions, the following were assessed: motor symptoms (descriptive purposes), clinical performance tests, fear of falling ratings, and posturography with and without vibratory proprioceptive disturbance.
Results: STN stimulation alone significantly (p = 0.002) increased the scores of the Berg balance scale, and the median increase was 6 points. The results of all timed performance tests, except for sharpened Romberg, were significantly (p <or= 0.016) improved. The patients rated their fear of falling as less severe, and the total score of the Falls-Efficacy Scale(S) increased (p = 0.002) in median with 54 points. All patients completed posturography when the STN stimulation was turned ON, but three patients were unable to do so when it was turned OFF. The seven patients with complete data showed no statistical significant difference (p values >or= 0.109) in torque variance values when comparing the two test situations. This applied both during quiet stance and during the periods with vibratory stimulation, and it was irrespective of visual input and sway direction.
Conclusion: In this sample, STN stimulation alone significantly improved the results of the clinical performance tests that mimic activities in daily living. This improvement was further supported by the patients' ratings of fear of falling, which were less severe with the STN stimulation turned ON. Posturography could not be performed by three out of the ten patients when the stimulation was turned OFF. The posturography results of the seven patients with complete data showed no significant differences due to STN stimulation.