A neurologist at Wilford Hall Medical Center is working to provide relief for patients suffering from movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and essential tremor.
Maj. (Dr.) Maria Alvarez is the only movement disorders fellowship-trained physician in the Department of Defense who actively works to improve the quality of life for adults who have been diagnosed with movement disorders. She is a Spartan Graduate of 2001 and went on to do her fellowship at Mayo Clinic, Arizona.
Parkinson's disease, or PD, is a neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer's motor skills, speech, gait, stiffness, and other functions. Essential tremor, or ET, is a progressive neurological disease whose most recognizable feature is a tremor of the arms that is apparent during voluntary movements, such as eating and writing.
There is no cure for either disease and they tend to get worse over time.
"Patients with PD and ET receive medications to improve their symptoms, but the drugs become less effective over time," said Dr. Alvarez. "As the disease progresses, a higher dosage of medication is required and at higher dosages medications have their own potential side effects."
Deep Brain Stimulation, or DBS, is an alternative to taking medication when medications can no longer control the symptoms and/or the adverse effects become less tolerable.
DBS is a surgical treatment involving the implantation of a medical device, or brain stimulator, which sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain. "The electrode is turned on about a month after the surgery and I adjust the settings in my office here at Wilford Hall," said Dr. Alvarez. "I can see the effects of the stimulation immediately and make needed adjustments. It's quite amazing."
Since her arrival at Wilford Hall in October 2007, Dr. Alvarez has seen five patients who received DBS. One had ET and four had PD.
Dr. Alvarez is also president of the San Antonio chapter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association. She gives talks to patients and their families and oversees support groups in the community.
In addition to DBS, Dr. Alvarez also offers an innovative treatment for patients who have spasticity or rigidity due to other neurological diseases, such as Multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain and/or spinal cord injury.
"It is so gratifying to see my patients improve after undergoing DBS implantation or ITB placement," said Dr. Alvarez. "Sometimes they seem like a totally different person. I just want to spread the word that these treatments are available so we can help as many people as possible."