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Deep Brain Stimulation

Doctors may discuss deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery for pediatric movement disorders that don’t respond to other therapies. DBS can be an option for children who suffer from severe cerebral palsy, tremors or dystonia (uncontrollable or violent twisting and contorted muscle movements) and other conditions.

Neurosurgeons have used DBS for years to treat adults with movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Doctors affiliated with the Phoenix Children’s Barrow Neurological Institute are skilled in performing this Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pediatric procedure to help carefully screened children suffering from similar movement disorders.

How DBS Works

The DBS team at Phoenix Children’s includes traditional neurosurgeons as well as specialized stereotactic neurosurgeons who perform minimally invasive procedures guided by imaging technologies.

Surgeons implant tiny electrodes and thin, flexible wires into specific areas in one or both sides of the child’s brain. These electrodes can send mild, steady electrical pulses to parts of the brain that control movement.

During the same procedure or in a second surgery, doctors implant a small pacemaker-like device called a neurostimulator. It is placed under the skin of a patient’s chest – usually below the collarbone. Once programmed and set by a movement disorders neurologist, it delivers steady low pulses that help manage abnormal or overactive brain rhythms that cause involuntary muscle movement.

The neurostimulator has no visible external wires and is controlled remotely. After surgery, the neurologist turns on the neurotransmitter and programs the device with settings customized to each child’s condition.  

Doctors continually monitor and adjust the device at routine follow-up visits. If your child has this procedure, your family will learn how to use a handheld wireless device to manage abnormal movements. DBS doesn’t harm brain tissue and doctors can safely remove the implants at any time. Our specialists are always at hand to respond to questions or concerns.

Prescreening  

Before considering DBS, doctors carefully screen patients based on a number of important considerations. Testing includes advanced neuroimaging studies and clinical evaluation. Other screening steps may include neuropsychological evaluation and additional specialized testing in our motion analysis lab

What to Expect

If DBS is an option for your child, your child’s neurologist will talk about screening procedures, as well as potential benefits and risks. You’ll receive individualized education and guidance, including details about device monitoring, care and management, and available resources for support.

Once specialists program the implanted device to customize and manage electrode stimulation, children return for follow-up visits to:

  • Check for proper device function
  • Adjust stimulation if needed to effectively manage symptoms
  • Check battery status and estimate when a device replacement may be needed

Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs

To help learn more and improve the use of DBS for children with movement disorders, Phoenix Children’s is part of PEDiDBS – an international pediatric DBS registry. Participating leaders collect and share data, and partner in research projects to study the use and effectiveness of DBS therapies in children.

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