Stimulation of the ear can help manage Parkinson's symptoms


Gentle, controlled stimulation of the ear canal can help reduce symptoms of Parkinson's disease, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England and published in the journal Parkinsonism & Related Disorders.

The randomized controlled study, led by David Wilkinson, PhD, looked at 46 individuals with Parkinson's disease. They used stimulation therapy with an at-home portable headset produced exclusively for clinical investigations by Scion Neurostim, a U.S.-based device company. Participants continued to take their regular dopamine replacement therapy while using the device.

The results showed that twice-daily stimulation for two months was associated with a significant reduction in both motor and non-motor features of Parkinson's disease. Participants reported greater movement and mobility, and showed improvements in decision-making, attention, memory, mood, and sleep. Participants also said that by the end of the study they found it easier to perform everyday activities by themselves, according to the study abstract.

Most of the therapeutic gains were greatest five weeks after the end of treatment, suggesting that the treatment may have long-lasting effects, researchers said.

“'This study raises the intriguing possibility,” Wilkinson said, “that some aspects of Parkinson's disease may be better managed if traditional drug-therapies are combined with gentle, non-invasive stimulation of the balance organs.”

The results build on other work conducted by Wilkinson's research group, which has shown that gentle stimulation of the inner ear can also improve neurological symptoms associated with stroke and traumatic brain injury. Researchers say more research is needed to better understand how delivering this kind of non-invasive stimulation to the nerve in the ear works.