We Parkies are always being urged to go to a Movement Disorder Specialist. Why? And what is a Movement Disorder Specialist, anyway? Well, Movement Disorder Specialists are neurologists with 1-2 more years of training specifically on Parkinson’s and other movement disorders. This is a whole lot of schooling: After med school, first, you do the neurology residency which is usually a year of internships, one year of internal medicine, and three years of neurology. Then there are 1-2 year fellowships, focusing on movement disorders which may be clinical, research, or both.
This further specialization on top of the neurological specialty makes sense – Parkinson’s is tricky to diagnose and treat, so a clinician who sees Parkies all the time should have the experience to better target diagnosis and treatment. For instance, doctors with this specialized training are typically more likely to correctly distinguish between essential tremors and Parkinson’s. Many Movement Disorder Specialists also have the training to do Deep Brain Stimulation neurosurgery – not a surgery for a rookie!
Neurologists already have their hands full with a long list of brain ailments: Alzhemer’s and other forms of dementia, autism, cranial injuries, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, migraines, etc., etc. And the list of movement disorders that might be handled by a specialist goes beyond Parkinson’s: for instance, dystonia and dyskinesia (uncontrolled muscle spasms), Huntingdon’s chorea (the horrible neurodegenerative disease charcterized by tics that Woody Guthrie died from), ataxia (uncoordinated movement), essential tremors, and Tourette’s syndrome (facial and vocal tics). In a distinction that only a medical journal could love, epileptic seizures are considered distinct from movement disorders, although the journal article helpfully says: “(some) movement disorders look like seizures and (some) seizures look like movement disorders.”
I am happy to report that I have gone to a Movement Disorder Specialist since my diagnosis back in 2012. He is both experienced and empathetic, so good that I’m not telling you his name, not just to protect his privacy but to keep from adding to his heavy patient load! Thanks, Doc.