Nebraska is Parkinson’s Country: Researchers Studying Why

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It’s a concerning trend. More people are on the Parkinson’s Disease Registry in Nebraska per capita than in most other states. 

“We are not sure why,” said CHI Health Neurologist Melinda Burnett, MD. “Exposure to pesticides and herbicides has long been known to be a risk factor for getting Parkinson’s disease, but that does not explain the whole story. There may be something different about what happens here in Nebraska. Studies are underway to figure that out.”

Parkinson’s is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects a person’s movement and often includes tremors. It can be hereditary or caused by environmental triggers.

Other symptoms include fatigue, pain, thinking and swallowing difficulties as well as sleep problems. 

According to Burnett, there haven’t been any important changes in the medical treatment of Parkinson’s for decades. “But over the last couple of years, new formulations of old medications have gotten FDA approval, and these new medications may help with side effects.”

Even more help is on the way. An FDA-approved Duopa pump releases the main medication used to treat Parkinson’s directly into the intestines. And some 30 medications are in clinical trials right now, though none of them are expected to be released anytime soon. 

“We have learned a lot about the underlying mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease over the last decade,” said Burnett. “Drug companies are starting to design molecules specifically targeting those mechanisms, which gives a drug a better chance of being successful.

“I am hopeful that in the next decade I will be able to prescribe something that will actually start to fix the underlying problem in the brains of people with Parkinson’s,” Burnett said.

Neurological Institute is Uniquely Designed to Help

Everyone is at risk for Parkinson’s disease. More men than women get it and more than 96 percent of those diagnosed are over 50. The CHI Health Neurological Institute stands ready to help Parkinson’s patients throughout the Midwest with:

  • Movement Lab and Functional Gait Recovery Program helps assess and treat gait and balance problems. These brand new programs are the only ones of their kind in the region.
  • BIG and LOUD Therapy helps with speech and swallowing.
  • High-tech treatments, including brain surgery and the new levodopa pump.
  • Multidisciplinary team, including speech and physical therapists plus unique access to a Doctor of Pharmacy, Michele Faulkner, PharmD, RPh, who sees patients in clinic.
  • Movement Disorders program led by Mayo Clinic-trained Melinda Burnett, MD, who has completed two movement disorder fellowships.