Neuroethics 14 (1):47-63 (2021)

Authors
Adrian Carter
Monash University
Abstract
Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease can lead to the development of neuropsychiatric symptoms. These can include harmful changes in mood and behaviour that alienate family members and raise ethical questions about personal responsibility for actions committed under stimulation-dependent mental states. Qualitative interviews were conducted with twenty participants following subthalamic DBS at a movement disorders centre, in order to explore the meaning and significance of stimulation-related neuropsychiatric symptoms amongst a purposive sample of persons with PD and their spousal caregivers. Interview transcripts underwent inductive thematic analysis. Clinical and experiential aspects of post-DBS neuropsychiatric symptoms were identified. Caregivers were highly burdened by these symptoms and both patients and caregivers felt unprepared for their consequences, despite having received information prior to DBS, desiring greater family and peer engagement prior to neurosurgery. Participants held conflicting opinions as to whether emergent symptoms were attributable to neurostimulation. Many felt that they reflected aspects of the person’s “real” or “younger” personality. Those participants who perceived a close relationship between stimulation changes and changes in mental state were more likely to view these symptoms as inauthentic and uncontrollable. Unexpected and troublesome neuropsychiatric symptoms occurred despite a pre-operative education programme that was delivered to all participants. This suggests that such symptoms are difficult to predict and manage even if best practice guidelines are followed by experienced centres. Further research aimed at predicting these complications may improve the capacity of clinicians to tailor the consent process.
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DOI 10.1007/s12152-019-09410-x
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