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New App Adjusts Brain Stimulators For Parkinson's Patients

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- You've heard it before – there's an app for that.

But how about an app that a patient can use to adjust their own brain stimulator?

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported, an iPod app is helping patients with Parkinson's disease. People with Parkinson's can have deep brain stimulators implanted, called DBS, to ease many of the motor symptoms of Parkinson's such as tremors.

But that electrical stimulation often has to be tweaked to get the best result. That is where an app comes in handy.

Paul Detlefsen was only 36 when the Parkinson's tremor in his right hand became so noticeable that he started avoiding going out in public.

"It was like a public thing – a little depression. You know, my friends, 'Let's go out.' I'm like, 'Naw,'" Detlefsen said.

Detlefsen had read about the side effects of Parkinson's medications, so he instead opted for deep brain stimulation.

"Two probes put into the brain, and runs down to a generator," Detlefsen said.

It sounds simple enough, but as neurosurgeon Dr. Asif Bashir points out: "Every patient is different. Every patient requires different parameters to program them."

That used to mean multiple trips to the doctor to have the stimulation adjusted. But now, Detlefsen can call up an app on his phone.

When he turns on the app, his tremors disappear.

And should his stimulator need adjustment, Detlefsen takes a phone video of his tremor and emails it to neurologist Dr. Philip Hanna.

As amazing as the app's ability to turn tremors on and off is, Detlefsen still cannot freelance his own brain stimulation.

"They are given certain parameters which they have no ability to move above," said Jacqueline Cristini of the JFK Neuroscience Institute.

Detlefsen is the first patient in the U.S. to receive the new controller system, so he has become a bit of an educator – showing another Parkinson's patient and prospective DBS user how it works.

"It's quality of life changing," he said.

Detlefsen said he feels only a slight, momentary tingle all over his body when he turns on the DBS, but normally, the stimulator is on all the time.

The app connects to his electrode generator via a secure Bluetooth link so that others cannot meddle with his DBS, and he cannot fool with someone else's.

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