DENVER — Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been known to help patients with certain diseases such as Parkinson’s, essential tremor and dystonia by slowing down or modulating cells that overact.

“It allows you to dampen down those actions,” said Dr. David VanSickle of the Denver DBS Center. “Same thing, in obsessive compulsive disorder, same thing in dystonia. So by dampening down cells that are overreacting, you allow to restore more normal activities.”

DBS works by inserting electrodes into the brain to fire electrical frequencies.

“I have four electrodes in my scalp with wires running down the back of my neck to generators here in my chest,” said Nancy Simpler in Cañon City.

Simpler demonstrates how the treatment works remotely. Credit: Rachel Saurer

In the past, this sort of treatment would mean multiple visits to Denver for not only the initial surgery, but follow-ups to keep the programming running smoothly.

“However, that is very tedious for a lot of our patients. You know, Denver is a rural area. So we’re a major metropolitan area, but we’re surrounded by individuals that are hours and hours and hours away,” Dr. VanSickle said.

According to the Denver DBS Center, 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, but only 11 percent of doctors practice in those areas with a quarter of them planning to retire within the next eight years.

For Simpler who’s over a hundred miles away and also has Parkinson’s, that drive provides a lot of undo stress.

Remote treatment reduces how often patients need to go into a facility to receive treatment.

“I’m not a big town girl to begin with,” Simpler said. “That’s not where I grew up. You know, But as I get older, it’s worse and worse. And I sit there with my white knuckles trying to drive up there.”

But now, the generators can be adjusted remotely through an iPhone provided by the DBS center.

“There’s two generators listed on there. All you do is you hit one… but I can even change the generator strength within a certain parameter that doctor sends,” Simpler said.

She said she hopes more neurology clinics can get on board, but for now, the DBS center said they’re pleased they can give access to more people who need care.

“Parkinson’s is actually more common in our rural areas than it is in our inner cities. So it brings treatment to individuals who actually otherwise are getting maybe a little substandard care just because of distance.”