Neurologist’s Talk Aimed at Parkinson’s Patients, Caregivers

October 13, 2011

Michelle Burack, M.D., Ph.D.

A physician who specializes in treating patients with Parkinson’s disease and related disorders will speak about the condition and take questions from patients, family members and caregivers in a free public talk next week.

Michelle Burack, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, will speak from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Lifetime Care, 3111 S. Winton Road. The discussion is aimed especially at patients who have recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, along with family members, though all are welcome.

The talk is part of a series of public discussions Burack has initiated across New York State, as part of educational outreach efforts through the Parkinson Support Group of Upstate New York. The talks are a way for Burack, who is part of a medical team that treats hundreds of patients with the disease, to educate people about Parkinson’s and at the same time learn more about the disease, enabling her to treat patients more effectively. Three talks per year in the Rochester area are planned.

“I learn so much from patients and their families,” said Burack. “Their questions sometimes force me to go deeper into the literature and re-think what I learned from textbooks and during training. Their real-life situations and experiences are teaching us a lot about the brain, and doing these talks fosters my continuing development as a physician and researcher.”

Burack also does research on Parkinson’s, hoping to learn more about the disease so that future patients not only in Rochester but around the world will benefit. Much of her research focuses on learning more about the movements that oftentimes plague patients – from the slow, sometimes frozen movement that is characteristic of the disease, to the involuntary, troublesome movements that can be a side effect of treatment when the disease has advanced. Her hope is to learn more about what’s happening in the brains of patients, perhaps to reduce the side effects of medications widely used today, or to boost the effectiveness of a surgical technique known as deep brain stimulation.

While Burack brings a plethora of tools when treating patients – information on support groups and other resources, physical therapy, possible surgical treatment and a number of potential medications – her first advice to anyone with Parkinson’s is to stay active.

“Physical activity is the most potent agent that we know of to protect our brain cells,” said Burack, who is an assistant professor of Neurology. “There is ample evidence that physical activity slows the loss of brain cells in animals, and from everything we know about neuroscience, it’s very likely that the same is true in people.” 

Burack, who joined the Rochester faculty in 2008, holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke, her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Virginia, and her medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

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