Parkinson’s Study at Desert Sands


     In January of 2009, I began a study utilizing a combination of two different types of acupuncture to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The study was limited to five patients who have Parkinson’s and live in areas of Tucson and Phoenix. The purpose of this study was to assess combining specialized (Zhu) scalp acupuncture with the more commonly used acupuncture points on the body. Treatments were given twice a week for 10 weeks. Questionnaire forms, (Parkinson’s Disease Questionaire-39 [PDQ-39] and Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale [UPDRS]) were filled out by the patients. These forms were filled out before beginning the study and at the completion of the study. Both questionnaires are commonly used to assess the severity of the symptoms of the disease. Although there were just five patients in the study, the resulting information indicates the treatments may be beneficial in improving some symptoms.



     Four patients either noticed positive changes or reported that friends or family members had noticed positive changes. The fifth patient did not notice any improvements, and her questionnaires also did not suggest any improvement in her symptoms. The initial symptoms of this patient were more severe than those of the other patients from the beginning of the study. She was also the only one who did not engage in any form of exercise. She reported spending most of her day watching television, and often was unable to walk without assistance.

     Both the PDQ-39 and the UPDRS results appeared to validated the positive outcomes of the four patients who reported positive benefits. All PDQ-39’s of these four patients indicated positive overall changes. Only one UPDRS did not have a change in score from the beginning to the end of the study. The PDQ-39 is scored with a total of 0-100 points. Zero represents no Parkinson’s symptoms, while a score of 100 is the worst case with both a greater number of symptoms or more severe symptoms. The UPDRS is scored similarly, but with scores ranging from 0-199. 199 represents the worst disability. For the four patients with improvement, scores were as follows:


Patient                Pre-study PDQ39  Post-Study PDQ39  Positive Difference

Pt1 (female, 64)          65                        47                           18       

Pt2 (female, 77)          18                          8                           10     

Pt3 (female, 59)          16                         13                            3   

Pt4 (male, 79)             47                         40                            7    



Patient             Pre-Study UPDRS   Post-Study UPDRS   Positive Difference

Pt1 (female, 64)          41                           35                          6   

Pt2 (female, 77)         22                            17                          5

Pt3 (female, 59)         26                            23                          3

Pt4 (male, 79)            38                            38                          0


The most common positive changes noted (reported by 3 of the 4) on the questionnaires were:

· Motivation/Initiative (UPDRS)

· Handwriting (UPDRS)

· Looking after your home, e.g. housework, cooking (PDQ-39)

· Dressing yourself (PDQ-39)

· Writing clearly (PDQ-39)

· Memory (PDQ-39)

· Speech (PDQ-39)


Questions from the questionnaires without any reported change included:

· Problems walking 100 feet (3 did not report having problems walking 100 feet before or after the study, therefore, there was not a change)

· Difficulty holding a drink without spilling it

· Aches or pains in joints or body (some attributed this to arthritis or other disease processes)

· Thought disorders (involving vivid dreaming or hallucinations)

· Depression

· Several questions involving tremor or rigidity in different areas of the body (only two individuals had a tremor)


     Other changes varied among individuals. One patient’s tremor became less frequent and less intense. Another reported she did not required the use of her cane, which she had been using during more difficult periods of the day. Changes noticed most frequently by friends and family (some not included in the questionnaires) were: improved facial expression, more animation, and improvements in socializing with others.


     The combined use of scalp acupuncture and body acupuncture appeared to give positive improvements in the majority of patients tested (4 of 5). This observation is similar to that of prior Parkinson’s patients I have treated. Changes in individuals with Parkinson’s disease are often very gradual. Frequently, the first to notice are friends and family members rather than the person with the disease. Although there may not be remarkable improvements, in a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s, even small improvements are very valuable to the patient. Additionally, acupuncture treatments should be ongoing to maintain the positive effects and to slow the progression of the symptoms of the disease. Acupuncture is not considered a “cure” for Parkinson’s, but can often help alleviate many of the symptoms, depending on the individual.

     While patients in the study were treated twice a week, the frequency of further treatments will depend on the symptoms experienced by each individual. Just as symptoms vary between each individual with Parkinson’s, each acupuncture course of treatment will be tailored to each individual. Patients with Parkinson’s are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and include a daily exercise program, as this also helps slow the progression of the disease.

     I express my appreciation to those participants in the study, who often spent a great deal of time and effort to make it to their scheduled appointments. It is hoped that through their participation, the value of acupuncture in treating Parkinson’s disease will become more widely known.