Alzheimer's brain 'pacemaker' slows decline of disease

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Alzheimer's Disease affects millions around the world. Source: Shuttestock

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.

Researchers from Ohio State University in the US conducted a small-scale study on three Alzheimer’s patients aimed at slowing the decline of problem solving and decision-making skills.

Thin electrical wires were surgically implanted into the frontal lobes of the patients’ brains to determine 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.

Similar technologies have proved to be effective in treating Parkinson’s Disease in the past, but this was the first time DBS has been tested on Alzheimer’s patients.

Researchers found that all three patients showed significant improvements, but noted that because of the study’s small test group, further research was needed.

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The study results were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

One of the patients who participated in the study was 85-year-old LaVonne Moore, who struggled to perform simple tasks and organisational duties when she entered the program.

Upon the completion of the study she was able to organise outings, including arranging transportation and destination, planning for the weather and bringing her money. She also regained the independence to select her clothing in the morning.

Her 89-year-old husband, Tom, said her Alzheimer’s disease has progressed, but more slowly than he expected.

“LaVonne has had Alzheimer’s disease 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,” he said.

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Tom Moore takes care of his wife LaVonne, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Source: Ohio State University

Much of the research and treatment options for Alzheimer’s revolve around improving memory and neglect other major symptoms of the disease, such as judgements, decision making and the ability to focus on a task.

The study’s co-author Dr Douglas Scharre said that DBS targeting frontal brain regions can reduce the overall performance decline typically seen in people with mild or early stage Alzheimer’s and is a promising form of treatment for the future.

“The frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organise and plan, and utilise good judgments. 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,” he said.

Is this good news for you? Do you know anyone living with Alzheimer’s Disease?