An implanted brain pacemaker can be beneficial in treating Parkinson's disease, but it may also interrupt the normal flow of thoughts, causing some patients to have trouble making decisions. One of the newest treatments for Parkinson's disease is deep brain stimulation. Patients undergo brain surgery to receive an implanted, battery-operated stimulator that acts like a pacemaker to keep certain brain areas functioning. But new research finds that these brain pacemakers can also interfere with normal thinking. Doctors from the University of Arizona tested patients with Parkinson's disease on a computer game task during brain stimulation. They compared their performance to Parkinson's patients who were only treated with drugs, and with healthy control subjects. The results showed that when the pacemakers were ON, some patients made decisions too fast -- they were impulsive, resulting in more mistakes. Patients taking medication also showed some problems with decision making -- they had trouble learning from their errors. Scientists say these problems occur because Parkinson's treatments interfere with the brain's normal reward mechanisms, causing problems such as increased gambling and other impulsive behaviors. However, the treatments are effective against Parkinson's disease, so experts say the next step is to refine the process so it does not have so many side effects.
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