A ‘pacemaker’ for the brain has helped a number of Alzheimer’s patients regain some of the cognitive function that they had previously lost because of the disease.
The process involves placing tiny electrical wires deep within the frontal lobes of the brain and then applying a small electrical current.
In the revolutionary new study led by Ohio State University, a number of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s were fitted with the Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) devices and the results were then analysed.
What they found was actually pretty remarkable, all three patients showed significant improvements in their ability to perform daily tasks.
LaVonne Moore, 85, of Delaware, Ohio, showed perhaps the most improvement though regaining the ability to prepare her own meals and choose what clothes she wanted to wear.
“We have many memory aides, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer’s patients with memory, but we don’t have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions.” explains Dr. Douglas Scharre, co-author of the study.
The hope is that while this technique certainly isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s it could have a significant impact on the daily lives of those currently suffering from the disease.
While much has been done to help improve the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s there are many other important factors to consider including complex cognitive tasks.
After three years of having the implant, LaVonne Moore’s Alzheimer’s has progressed but at a much slower pace than expected. She can still play the piano and has regained a number of key tasks around the house.
In much the same way that a pacemaker keeps the heart regulated, DBS provides stimulation to a specific part of the brain.
“The frontal lobe is responsible for things like problem solving, organisation and good judgment. By stimulating this region of the brain, patients’ cognitive functionality declined more slowly than a typical Alzheimer’s patient.” explains Dr Scharre.
The next step for the researchers is to see if there’s a way of replicating deep brain stimulation but without the invasive procedure that’s currently needed.
“Alzheimer’s and dementias are devastating diseases affecting patients and their families. It is crucial to explore new options to help improve function, daily care and quality of life for these patients,” said Dr. Ali Rezai, a neurosurgeon who specialises in neuromodulation at West Virginia University.
There are over half a million people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in the UK and that number is widely expected to grow significantly as larger numbers of the population live increasingly longer lives.
While huge amounts of research is being carried on on the disease there is currently no cure and so studies looking to improve the lives of those already suffering are considered just as vital.