Deep brain stimulation shows promise as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease

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Researchers at Ohio State University, USA, say deep brain stimulation from a device similar to a cardiac pacemaker can slow the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills in Alzheimer’s patients.

Researchers at Ohio State University, USA, say deep brain stimulation from a device similar to a cardiac pacemaker can slow the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills in Alzheimer’s patients.

In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers said they implanted thin electrical wires into the frontal lobes of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to see if using a brain pacemaker could improve cognitive, behavioural and functional abilities in patients with this form of dementia.

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. This is the first use of DBS in Alzheimer’s disease in a behavioural regulation brain region target.

They found that using deep brain stimulation to target the frontal brain regions can reduce the overall performance decline typically seen in people with mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s. The disease affects more than five million people in the USA and that number is expected to rise to as many as 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The study’s objective was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of DBS at the ventral capsule/ventral striatum region to specifically modulate frontal lobe behavioural and cognitive networks as a novel treatment approach for Alzheimer’s disease patients.

“The frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organize and plan, and utilize good judgments,” said Douglas Scharre, co-author of the study and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute, “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.”

The researchers said they will next look at nonsurgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe, which would be a less invasive treatment option to slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

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