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Can acupuncture help with parkinsons disease

Q:  My husband was diagnosed with parkinsons disease about 2 years ago, but at his last appointment with the neurologist he said it was possible he had PSP.

Over the last 6 months my husbands walking has deteriorated drastically and he has freezing episodes every few steps. His balance is very very poor and he has frequent falls despite walking with various walking aids in the house. He cannot go out on his own any more and it is very difficult for me to take him anywhere on my own.

He does not have much in the way of tremors but sometimes his speech is slurred and he is very very slow in eating and all movements. The right side of his body does not have much strength.

He has been on Madapor for two years but this does not seem to make much of an improvement. He is 83 years of age and his brain is still very sharp. Could you tell me whether acupuncture would help him with his walking as I am now at the end of my tether to know what to do for him.

I am a great believer in complementary medicine and treatments and have tried many things for him. 


A: This is a very difficult question to answer. If the diagnosis is indeed PSP, then there really is not a great deal which treatment might offer. There are a number of studies of the use of acupuncture for the treatment of Parkinsons Disease (PD), most of which showed no statistical bias in the treatment group and those which were slightly more positive tended to be so in only one of the aspects of Parkinsons, like sleep quality or rest. However, the overall picture is not very positive.

From a Chinese medicine perspective the various symptoms associated with Parkinsons are understood in a number of ways as disturbances in the flow of energy, and since the portmanteau of possible symptoms is quite broad, there are occasions when treatment does appear to make a difference, mainly of the 'getting worse slower' kind rather than the 'rapid reversal' kind. One of the problems, however, is that once someone has the disease label of PD or PSP everything which happens to them is filtered through this and seen as a manifestation of the underlying problem. This may well be the case, but there are going to be times when a problem is not directly causally related to the PD itself but arises as a consequence of disturbances caused by functional changes arising from the PD. If so, there is a small but real hope that a specific symptom could be helped.

The important factor is that the practitioner who makes this judgement is experienced enough to determine whether it is worth trying, and having tried whether the results after two or three sessions show any indication that the treatment is having an effect. It is crucial to avoid the triumph of hope over experience when someone ploughs on, often running up a large bill, with no discernible change in the patient. We always believe that in cases like this, if the symptom is likely to respond as a separate issue from the underlying condition then four of five sessions will be more than enough to be sure.

We have to be honest, though, and say that we are not that optimistic that there will be much change, given your husband's age and general state of health. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and the use of acupuncture would certainly not make things worse.

There are a number of practitioners in your area, and you can generate a list by simply using the postcode search function on our home page.

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