In this episode of the Sarasota Neurology Podcast, Dr. Kassicieh, a recognized Parkinson’s disease expert, provides an overview of the disease and current techniques for managing it.



Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease seen in the United States. Only Alzheimer’s disease is more common. They both share the common fact that they are progressive neurological diseases that result in patients losing functional ability. Alzheimer’s disease affects memory, the ability to remember how to do things and general loss of mental function. Alzheimer’s patients are mostly not aware of the fact that they are neurologically deteriorating. They will make excuses for their memory short comings. Like Parkinson’s disease it is important to recognize Alzheimer’s early so that treatment can be started and outcomes will be improved.

Parkinson’s disease is primarily a progressive loss of the ability to move normally. There is a gradual slowing of movements as well as doing routine tasks such as shaving, dressing and getting ready to go out. Walking is affected and patients tend to shuffle with a forward stoop. Although tremor is common in Parkinson’s patients, not all have this. The converse is true: not everyone with tremor has Parkinson’s disease. There are many treatment available for Parkinson patients to improve their quality of life.

Not everything that shakes is Parkinson’s. If you are concerned that you or someone you love may be suffering from this or another movement disorder, please call (941) 955-5858 or click here to schedule your appointment today. If you’re outside the Sarasota area and unable to travel here, please locate a movement disorder specialist in your area.

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Much has been said and written about caffeine over the past half century. There have been over 20,000 studies conducted looking at the various effects and benefits of caffeine over this period of time. Numerous studies have demonstrated the tremendous health benefits that can be derived from regular daily consumption of caffeine, most commonly delivered through the consumption of coffee or energy drinks such as Red Bull or similar beverage. All of these have a high caffeine content.  In almost any way that caffeine is consumed, there are certain health benefits that it delivers. Despite all the negative press that has been attributed to caffeine, there has never been a study that has shown that caffeine has long term negative health effects, quite the contrary. The vast majority of studies have shown some beneficial effect in the regular consumption of coffee and caffeine. In that sense, caffeine is truly one of nature’s own wonder drugs.

The use of caffeinated beverages  by humans is documented  since the 15th century. Over the past 100 years there has been an explosive growth in the manner that we get our daily “caffeine fix.” Coffee has been a staple beverage in most countries and cultures of the world. Prepared in various ways, it is all still derived from the humble coffee bean. There are many different types of coffee beans and many more ways to roast and grind the bean. The combination of these factors leads to preparation of coffee and related drinks. Caffeine is also added to various soft drinks and energy drinks, which gives these beverages the ability to make a person feel a “boost” in energy and alertness. In contrast to regular, black coffee – the healthiest of caffeinated beverage genre – many coffee preparations, soft drinks and any energy drink contain high quantities of sugar and/or fat. It is these ingredients that may contribute to the undeserved reputation that coffee or caffeine is not healthy. Of the regular, commercially available coffee, Starbucks has the highest caffeine content coffees.


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Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, just behind Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by specific clinical symptoms including rigidity (stiffness), slowness of movement, unsteadiness (gait imbalance) and tremor. For the accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to be made, a patient needs to have 3 of the 4 major symptoms of the disorder. Each patient with Parkinson’s disease is different and may have differing degrees of each component of Parkinsonism. Not all patients with Parkinson’s disease have tremor. Some may have more instability of gait, shuffling or slowness of movement. There are several medications available that neurologists can use to treat Parkinson patients to alleviate their Parkinson symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Unfortunately, there is a down side to this treatment. Patients who have been on Sinemet for a few years tend to develop motor fluctuations. Motor fluctuations include end-of-dose wearing off, where their functional abilities deteriorate before the next dose of medication is due. Other motor fluctuations include freezing and off time.
Parkinson freezing is simply when a patient becomes “stuck” meaning they cannot move. This occurs more frequently when going through doorways, stepping up onto a curb or stair or when getting up to start walking. Freezing can also occur first thing in the morning, just when getting up out of bed. Freezing episodes can last for a second up to a few minutes. It is the goal of every Parkinson’s disease neurologist to minimize a patient’s amount of freezing, through various medications and dosing schedule changes. Off time can occur in two settings: one is predictable, usually at the end of the dosing interval but the other occurs randomly, without warning. These sudden off time events are more problematic as they tend not to respond as well to medication changes. Off time is troublesome for the patient and caregiver. Affected patients become virtually immobile, essentially frozen in place. There are different degrees of off time, but in all cases, the patient’s mobility and ability to function are severely impaired. Off time may last minutes to hours. For those patients with short duration off time, additional medication or shorter dosing intervals usually will help. Off time may also occur first thing in the morning when waking up. Even if Parkinson patients take their medications, it may be an hour or more before they are functioning normally. For patients with prolonged off times, usually greater than 45 minutes, there is treatment.
Apokyn (apomorphine) is a self administered injectable medication that rapidly relieves off time. Its duration of action is generally less than 2 hours. This is an ideal medication for patients with one or multiple daily freezing episodes. For those affected patients, Apokyn can literally give them their lives back, particularly when more waking hours are spent in the “off time” than in “on time.” For a patient or caregiver to administer Apokyn, some training is required. This is covered by the drug manufacturer and by Medicare. Side effects can include a drop in blood pressure, lightheadedness, nausea or vomiting. When initially starting a patient on Apokyn, medication to prevent nausea is given first. After being on the Apokyn for a few weeks, patients frequently can stop the antinausea medication.
If you are a patient or caregiver and feel that Apokyn may be of benefit, contact your neurologist or Parkinson disease specialist for more information. An excellent information package, with DVD, is available at no cost. The first step is to make the call to improve your quality of life.  For more information, visit the website for Dr. Kassicieh at:

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Many patients over the age of 65 complain of memory loss and are concerned they have dementia. Others attribute their memory loss to aging. While there is a very mild degree of memory loss associated with aging, it is usually not significant. For example, forgetting where you put your keys or where you parked your car. These are not serious memory problems. A more problematic degree of memory loss, while not dementia, is called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by an increase level of forgetfulness. There are two primary types of MCI: (1) Amnestic MCI (2) Non-amnestic MCI. In patients affected with amnestic MCI, they have significant memory and recall difficulty. There is a stronger association with this type of MCI with Alzheimer’s disease. Non-amnestic MCI usually does not progress to Alzheimer’s disease but may go on to other types of dementia. The good news is that about fifty percent of all patient’s with MCI never progress to Alzheimer’s or any other dementia. MCI can also spontaneously improve and clear.

The American Academy of Neurology published criteria for the diagnosis of MCI: (1) Individuals reporting their awareness of memory difficulty – preferably confirmed by a spouse or child; (2) Measurable memory loss greater than would be expected for age; (3) Normal general thinking and reasoning skills; (4) Ability to perform routine daily activities. Frequently patients with MCI have specific areas in which they are having memory trouble whereas patients affected with dementia have more global memory difficulties. Also quite frequently, patients with dementia are unaware of having any memory problem at all.

Risk factors for MCI and mild memory loss include such things as high blood pressure, lower educational levels, lack of physical and mental activities and vascular disease. Vascular dementia is seen in patients that have had multiple small strokes. Abnormally low blood pressure, particularly in patients with significant brain vascular disease (hardening of the arteries) can be a cause of reversible memory loss. Depression can cause a condition of memory loss known as pseudo-dementia syndrome of depression. Fortunately this is treatable and the “memory loss” is reversible in this condition.

In those patients affected with MCI, they can go on to develop dementia, usually Alzheimer’s disease. The true incidence is difficult to measure and ranges between 27-65% depending on which study one reads. Some studies have shown that the use of memory loss medications such as donzepil (Aricept®) can help improve memory function and potentially slow the progression of memory loss. It should be noted that in patients over the age of 70, approximately 12% will have some degree of memory difficulty. This is highly variable from patient to patient.

In summary, if you have a sense that you have memory difficulty, do not attribute it to normal aging. Consider seeing a neurologist trained in evaluating memory disorders and Alzheimer’s disease. You have everything to gain by improving your quality of life.

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Namenda (memantine) is the newest medication used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. New research has shown that Namenda may be effective in treating patients with both migraine and tension headaches. The study done by John Krusz, PhD, MD showed that some patients with chronic migraines that did not do well with other headache treatments, did well with Namenda therapy. Of the migraine sufferers, there was a 56% drop in the number of migraine attacks. In patients with tension headaches there was a 62% drop in the numbers of attacks. This study was well reviewed on the website, Help for Headaches and Migraines.

Migraine and other headaches are chronic medical conditions that require aggressive preventative treatment. Many therapies have been tried but no cure has been found. Botox treatment has been promoted by the press but no clinical studies have showed that it is superior in migraine treatment than placebo. Having said that, there are certainly patients that have had migraine and headache reduction after Botox therapy.

It is important to note that the use of Namenda, Botox and most other migraine treatments are off-label uses of these and other medications. The majority of medications routinely used in the prevention of migraines are off-label. This is the standard of care in most headache clinics. If you suffer from migraines that prevent you from routine activities or interfere with work, you need to seek out help from a qualified neurologist who specializes in migraine headache treatment.

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Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is a rare disorder that is characterized by progressive gait difficulty, urinary incontinence and memory loss. Although the press has covered this topic extensively in both the written and video media, true normal pressure hydrocephalus remains quite uncommon. The underlying problem is actually an excessive build up of spinal fluid in the brain. The areas of the brain that stores this fluid are known as the ventricles. In NPH, the spinal fluid flows out of the brain but, due to reasons that are not entirely clear, there is a build up of excessive fluid in the brain. This results in enlarged ventricles causing a condition called communicating hydrocephalus.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus develops very slowly, over months to years. It is usually seen in individuals over the age of 65. As the ventricles slowly increase in size, affected patients begin to show signs of slowed, wide based, unsteady gait. Urinary incontinence may also develop during this time. Later during the disease process memory loss begins. All of the symptoms are very slowly progressive. Patients can be diagnosed incorrectly with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, depression or just dementia.

The gait difficulty comes from the fact the the nerve fibers that control walking and balance become stretched as the ventricles enlarge. With this comes progressively worsening gait imbalance and falling. Patients may complain of weakness and fatigue. Patients will actually will tell you that their feet feel stuck to the ground, giving rise to the term magnetic gait. Memory loss seen in normal pressure involves mainly recall and slowness of thinking. Recognition of objects, tasks and individuals is better preserved. Without careful testing however, one can easily make the mistake of making an erroneous diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease versus normal pressure hydrocephalus associated dementia. Urinary incontinence is a later finding in the disease process. There is an increasing need to urinate more frequently and urgently. If the dementia progresses too far, patients will become indifferent to their incontinence.

Diagnosis is made by obtaining an MRI or CT brain scan. The ventricles appear enlarged in the absence of brain atrophy (shrinkage.) As a normal process of aging, there is a certain amount of atrophy. It other conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism or in patient’s who have received chemotherapy, brain atrophy can be more prominent. The key in diagnosing NPH is that the degree of ventricular enlargement is out of proportion to the expected degree of atrophy. The degree of ventricular enlargement can be measured as a ratio to the degree of atrophy. The second step in diagnosis, after a complete neurological exam, is to do a diagnostic spinal tap (lumbar puncture.) During this procedure, 1-2 ounces of spinal fluid is drained off. The patient is then tested to see if their gait improves.

Treatment for confirmed cases of normal pressure hydrocephalus is a brain surgery procedure know as a ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement. In this procedure, a tube is placed in the ventricles and the other end drains into the abdomen. The tube is run under the skin. Spinal fluid is then absorbed in the abdomen. There is no known effective medical treatment for NPH. Early diagnosis and treatment is important as the gait disorder and urinary symptoms can be alleviated. Once the memory loss has begun, this cannot be reversed.

In order to have the accurate diagnosis of normal pressure hydrocephalus, a patient should be seen by a neurologist or neurosurgeon familiar with the condition. It is not necessarily easily diagnosed, even by experienced physicians. Nonspecific gait disorder is common with advancing age. Dementia is also common, particularly over the age of 70. Stroke, Parkinson’s disease and low thyroid can mimic the symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus. The main point is that of all these conditions, true normal pressure hydrocephalus occurs very rarely and is generally considered a diagnosis of exclusion of every other problem plus meet the diagnostic criteria listed above.

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The FDA has recently approved the dementia fighting drug Exelon in a patch form. The new formulation, Transdermal Exelon, offers patients a new and unique way to get medication which can help with improving cognitive function and slow down memory loss in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The new patch is also FDA approved for patients with Parkinson associated dementia. This is the second patch approved for use in treatment of Parkinson disease. The other is Neupro, a transdermal patch containing the dopamine agonist rotigotine.

Transdermal Exelon joins the group of other medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, such as Aricept, Razadyne and Namenda. The patch for of Exelon offers the advantage of not having to take a pill twice daily, continuous medication administration through the skin and less stomach upset. Another advantage is that the patch demonstrated beneficial effects equivalent to the maximum oral dosing of this medication. The problem with the oral medication was intolerance due to nausea and vomiting. While much less, there were some reports of stomach upset with Transdermal Exelon. Another side effect, common to most patch medications, was that of skin irritation. The patch needs to be changed daily and administration sites should be rotated, not using the same site more than once every two weeks. While Exelon, Aricept and Razadyne are in the same chemical family of memory disorder drugs – the acetylcholine esterase inhibitors – Namenda is in a class by itself. For this reason, it can be used in combination with any of the other three. Studies have shown that there is a beneficial effect in improving cognitive function with combining these two different types of medication. Studies are looking into the use of these medications for patients with mild cognitive impairment. These are individuals who have some memory loss but do not fit the criteria to be diagnosed with dementia. Depression, manifesting as dementia, also needs to be excluded.

Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic debilitating illness that slowly robs patients of their memory, cognitive abilities and ability to function independently. They become more and more dependent on others to provide care and transportation for them. Even dressing, eating and bathing become impossible for them to perform without assistance. With the availability of these new memory drugs, the progression of the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson disease associated dementia can be slowed down. Some patients actually show functional improvement. Unfortunately, none of these medications halt the progression of the disease. Eventually their quality of life deteriorates and others will need to assist with care giving. The benefit of these medications is that they significantly slow the progression of the disease, possibly keeping loved ones at home, instead of a nursing home, for anywhere from 6-18 months. If you have a loved one with memory loss, early diagnosis and treatment is important. Studies are ongoing to show that with earlier treatment, patients do better over extended periods of time. Bring your family member with memory loss to a neurologist for a complete evaluation.

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Memory loss is a frequent patient complaint that I see in my office. Patients with this complaint are generally over the age of 65 but occasionally I will see someone in their 40s or 50s with this problem. For all patients, it is important to get a detailed history of when they first noticed the problem and has it been getting worse. What kinds of things do they forget. Does it happen all the time. A brief memory test, the MMPI can be performed. This simple test can give the physician a general idea on the degree of memory loss. Further tests should be performed such as a CT or MRI brain scan to look for stroke, hydrocephalus or other abnormalities. Simple lab screening for diabetes, low thyroid and vitamin deficiencies are commonly ordered.

Once testing has been completed, treatment can be started. For many younger patients, memory loss is due to a combination of stress, depression and other situational problems. It is rarely due to dementia or some other progressive neurodegenerative problem. Antidepressant medications are frequently helpful in these situations. By alleviating anxiety and depression, a patient’s “memory loss” can be cleared. Patient’s with persistent memory problems may need to undergo a further course of memory testing by a psychologist. This 4-6 hour testing session gives a detailed analysis of what type of memory problems a patient may be experiencing. This can range anywhere from depression to Minimal Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

Minimal cognitive impairment is characterized by simple memory loss. Affected patient’s have difficulty remembering certain things, without having their global memory function and other aspects of thinking impaired. There is commonly underlying depression, but this is not the specific cause of their memory loss. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, short and intermediate term memory is more commonly affected. These patients can also have trouble with finding words, commonly misplacing objects and loss of social graces.

There are several medications that are used in treating memory loss. Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne are all similar in the was that they work to help slow down the progression of memory loss and dementia. Namenda is another memory loss medication that works differently than the other 3 medications. It can be used alone or in combination with one of the other memory drugs. The combination therapy has been shown to have a very significant, beneficial effect in some patients in improving their cognitive processing and memory function. It is important that a patient be evaluated as soon as a problem is suspected. Studies have shown that the earlier one of these medications is started, the better the patient does over the long run. While these medications do not have FDA approval for minimal cognitive impairment, some studies have shown that the memory loss medications are helpful in these cases as well.

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