Richard Seeger was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1991. In the following years, he saw his movement ability rapidly deteriorate.

"I couldn't get up from the seat -- I'd have to bounce and bounce and bounce until I finally got my legs, my knees locked," he says.

Richard volunteered to participate in a study comparing two forms of treatment. Participants received either a surgical procedure called deep brain stimulation or intensive treatment with medications and rehabilitation therapies.

"What is unique about this study was that we included older people," says Dr. Frances Weaver from Hines VA Hospital. "Parkinson's patients are often older, but older people are often excluded from research studies. Twenty five per cent of our population in our study were aged 70 and older."

Richard was chosen at random to undergo surgery, in which very small electrodes are placed in his brain. The electric stimulation was then adjusted to best control his symptoms.

"They turned it on and I tell you what, they couldn't believe it, I was walking around, not shaking," he says.

The study findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

At six months, patients who received deep brain stimulation increased the amount of time per day that they were able to function normally by 4.6 hours compared with patients receiving the medication and rehabilitation therapies.

There were significant improvements in most movement functions and quality of life and it was found that the extent of benefit was roughly the same for all surgical patients, regardless of age.

"The fact that our older patients did almost as well was a very surprising and positive finding for us," says Dr. Weaver.

However, the study also found a higher rate of complications for patients who underwent deep brain stimulation.

"The take home message from this study is that each patient should weigh the benefits and risks of undergoing deep brain stimulation but that being older and having Parkinson's does not exclude a person from being appropriate for receiving this treatment," says Dr. Weaver.

For more information on support groups, advocacy, counselling and conferences to keep up with the latest research, contact the Parkinson's Society of B.C.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low