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Patients come first for Neurologist Lauren Schrock, MD, a movement disorder specialist

In order to treat Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, Neurologist Lauren Schrock, MD, works to understand her patients—and how their disease affects their daily lives.

Understanding and empathy are critically important for Neurologist Lauren Schrock, MD.

Schrock joined University of Minnesota Health earlier this year, and is a member of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research. She cares for patients who have movement disorders—such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and dystonia—and helps identify the best course of treatment for each person, including medication, physical therapy, deep brain stimulation or other options.

“The more I know and understand about each of my patients, the better equipped I am to care for them,” she said.

We talked with Schrock about her treatment approach, the unique challenges facing patients with movement disorders and her dual role as a physician and a researcher.

How do you work with patients who are considering deep brain stimulation to treat their movement disorder?

Initially, I evaluate patients in the clinic. Medication to manage movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease can become less effective over time. Some may experience what we call “motor fluctuations,” which occur when the effects of medication become inconsistent and fluctuate throughout the day. These fluctuations may signal that the Parkinson’s disease is becoming more advanced. After I see a patient in clinic and they have undergone additional evaluations that inform our clinical decision making, I meet with a multi-disciplinary team to discuss whether each patient is an appropriate candidate for deep brain stimulation surgery, or whether we should recommend another course of treatment. I’m also involved in the surgery itself. I work with my neurosurgery colleagues to identify the best locations in the brain to place electrodes during deep brain stimulation surgery in order to reduce a patient’s symptoms.

Read more about deep brain stimulation treatment for movement disorders.

Why do you enjoy working with movement disorder patients?

People with movement disorders struggle with a very visible, physically challenging condition.

I’m passionate about helping them overcome that challenge. Each patient is unique, but by finding the most appropriate treatment plan we can make a enormous difference in a person’s life. It’s exciting to play a part in that effort. Movement disorder treatment also requires a lot of different skills. Doctors must have a deep understanding of brain anatomy, must know the intricacies of different medication effects and must be familiar with an array of surgical procedures as well.

How is movement disorder treatment unique?

People with Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders may have the will and desire to do something, but can’t carry it out because of the physical limitations of the disease. It can be very frustrating for people because it changes how they interact with the world, and how the world interacts with them. I endeavor to meet each person where they are with a great deal of empathy. You need to understand each person’s unique place in the world to understand how to care for them as an individual. It’s difficult to imagine willing your body to do something, but being unable to do what you aim to do because your body doesn’t respond correctly. Understanding that pushes me to be better.

Learn more about the University of Minnesota Udall Center for Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research.

It sounds like you really get to know your patients; to understand them beyond their disease.

As a physician, it’s critically important that I consider how a patient’s condition affects them in unique ways. Some patients may have a minor tremor in their hands—which may not seem like a big deal to you or I. But what if that person is a teacher or a craftsman? That tremor could be severely debilitating for them. I like to talk with patients and understand how their disease impacts their life, because that’s what truly matters when considering treatment options.

You’re both a researcher working to cure movement disorders and a physician treating patients. Why is that important?

Working with patients gives me a deep understanding of the challenges of living with a movement disorder and makes the gaps in our current therapies stand out in stark relief. Caring for patients gives me a unique opportunity to see how new therapeutic technology will impact patients’ lives. Advances in our research depend on these very human encounters. Our work also depends on the generosity of those patients with a neurological disease who volunteer to participate in studies so that we can advance our knowledge and our ability to heal. I feel fortunate to work at University of Minnesota Health, where many of our patients and clinician-researchers work together to help future patients. Each visit I share with a patient has the potential to open up new doors and inspire new breakthroughs that will in turn make others’ lives better.