Dr. Cameron Dietiker is a neurologist with expertise in movement disorders. She cares for patients with tremor, dystonia, chorea, ataxia, Parkinson's disease, atypical parkinsonism, essential tremor, Huntington's disease and spinocerebellar ataxia. She specializes in using deep brain stimulation and botulinum toxin therapy to treat some of these conditions.
Dietiker participates in several clinical trials and observational studies that aim to identify risk factors, biomarkers and better treatment options for various movement disorders. Professionally, her priorities are caring for patients and teaching the next generation of neurologists.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Dietiker took two years to participate in research with the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism) project. She earned her medical degree at New York Medical College, where she was recognized by the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and the Gold Humanism Honor Society. She completed a residency in neurology and a fellowship in movement disorders at UCSF.
I have had the good fortune of working with several of Dr. Dietiker's patients over the past years. When I bugged her about this blog, she generously agreed to answer some of the questions that have come up among clients from her lens as a movement disorder specialist.
Can you explain what drew you to work with people with movement disorders (how did you know that would be your focus in medicine)?
I really enjoyed seeing patients with movement disorders in my residency. In my clinics, I always looked forward to seeing these patients the most, so I knew it was something I wanted to specialize in. It's a field with a lot of exciting research and treatment options, so there's a lot of hope.
Some of my clients with PD will attempt to see general neurologists to help them manage PD. Is it important for people living with PD to seek out a specialized neurologist with fellowship training in movement disorders to help them manage their PD?
I think it's helpful for people with PD to see a movement disorder specialist, but it's not always necessary, especially if symptoms are well controlled and it's early in the disease. Later on, as the disease progresses or if symptoms are not well controlled, it can be helpful to see a specialist. Sometimes, specialists are also a little more careful about addressing the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease as well (things like cognitive symptoms or drooling).
I have noticed from my time as a clinician, that when a patient is diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease (PD) responses from the client and family are quite varied. Are there any patterns in behavior or health habits that you have noticed in patients that set them up for greater success in living with their PD?
This is a tough question. Definitely, exercise can be an important factor. Aerobic exercise has been shown to be neuroprotective, meaning it may be able to slow progression. People who make a lifestyle of this may be setting themselves up for better success, but I say this cautiously because that's not the same thing as preventative.
I understand that you are involved in clinical and observational research relating to movement disorders. Are there any concepts that are emerging in movement disorder medicine research that you are particularly excited about?
I think the most exciting thing lately have been drug trials focused on targeting the alpha-synuclein protein. Before now, we've only had symptomatic therapies. These trials are looking for a way to stop or slow propagation of the abnormal protein in PD and are more focused on addressing the pathophysiology of the disease. If successful, they would be the first disease modifying therapies available.
I am so impressed by all of the movement you engage in! Can you explain a little about how physical movement has enriched your life?
I'm very physically active. I think it improves my mood and overall health. Also, I know it's neuroprotective and I want a well functioning brain late in life, if at all possible. I'm just trying to set a good example as well. I can't tell my patients that they should be getting 2.5 hours of aerobic exercise a week and not follow my own advice.
Also, with your client care, teaching and research, how do you prioritize and make time for your own physical practice?
This is not always easy. I schedule everything, including my exercise. That way I can't debate with myself about whether or not I'm exercising today. If it's on the schedule, then I have to do it. I also try to schedule a lot of it before work or weekends, that way, work spilling over can't keep me from getting to it on time.
Is there anything else that you were hoping to pass along to people in the PD community?
There are so many things to pass on to the PD community. I think one thing I'd like people to know is how many resources there are in the community. From support groups, to acting clubs, to many different types of exercise groups, there are so many ways to connect and find support. This is important for everyone-patients, families, and caregivers. It helps people share their stories and stay social and active, both important for cognitive health. It helps people learn about other treatments or research opportunities. Most importantly, it reminds people that they aren't alone.
Are you currently accepting new patients? What is the best way for patients to get in contact with you?
I am accepting new patients but I do have a bit of a wait, around 3 months. Asking for a referral to the movement disorder center at UCSF would be the best way to get into my clinic. They can also contact the UCSF Movement Disorder and Neuromodulation Center directly.
I want to thank Dr. Dietiker for taking time out of her extremely full schedule to answer questions for our brains and bells community. I am hoping to do a couple "ask the expert" posts through the year, so please reach out via email if you have any burning questions you would love to run by Dr. Dietiker in the future. I for one want to know what she thinks about the Great British Bake Off! firstname.lastname@example.org.