Published: Wed, January 31, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Brain pacemaker shows promise in decline of Alzheimer's

Brain pacemaker shows promise in decline of Alzheimer's

There's fresh hope in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease after a study found a pacemaker for the brain helped slow patients' mental decline and eased symptoms of the insidious disease.

In a medical first, surgeons in the USA implanted electrical wires into the frontal lobes of three people to stimulate their brain cells in the same way that a pacemaker regulates electrical activity in the heart. The deep brain stimulation (DBS) implant is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device, except that the pacemaker wires are implanted in specific regions of the brain rather than the heart.

"By stimulating this region of the brain, the Alzheimer's subjects cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer's patients in a matched comparison group not being treated with DBS", Dr Scharre added. "These skills are necessary in performing daily tasks such as making the bed, choosing what to eat and having meaningful socializing with friends and family", said Dr. Douglas Scharre, co-author of the study and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at OSU. "Numerous studies have shown Alzheimer's is more a disease of lifestyle than genetics, and there is an emerging consensus that the same foods that clog our arteries can also clog our brains." .

Deep brain stimulation, used in Parkinson's disease to control tremor, appears safe and of potential benefit in Alzheimer's disease, the BBC reports based on a study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. It's not clear exactly how DBS works to improve patients' conditions, Schulder said, but it may help block signals that interfere with normal brain function, or it may help brain cells work better.

Most treatments focus on improving memory but his team aimed at slowing the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills.

In the new study, DBS implants were placed in a part of the frontal lobe called the ventral striatum.

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"Alzheimer's disease is one of the most physically and emotionally burdensome diseases, both for the sufferers and for the people who care for them", writes Greger.

The researchers found that two of the three patients who received the implants showed significantly less decline in their test scores, compared with the participants who didn't receive the implants. After two years of deep-brain stimulation, she could independently initiate preparations of a simple meal, assemble ingredients and cook the meal. In addition, she recovered her ability to pick out her own clothes and was able to organize outings, making sure to account for weather and transportation.

Next, Ohio State researchers want to explore non-surgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe, which would be a less invasive treatment option to slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Dr Scharre said: "The frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organise and plan and utilise good judgments".

Her husband Tom Moore, 89, said: "LaVonne has had Alzheimer's disease probably longer than anybody I know, and that sounds negative, but it's really a positive thing because it shows that we're doing something right".

These figures are expected to triple to two million and 16 million respectively by 2050.

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