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Watch How a 'Brain Pacemaker' Slows the Pace of Alzheimer's Disease

Deep brain stimulation from a device similar to a cardiac pacemaker was demonstrated by Ohio State University researchers to slow the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills in Alzheimer’s patients. Thin electrical wires were surgically implanted into the frontal lobes of the brains of patients to determine if using a brain pacemaker could improve cognitive, behavioral and functional abilities in those with this form of dementia.

The researchers observed that 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 deep brain stimulation. Targeting frontal brain regions appears to reduce the overall performance decline typically seen in people with mild or early stage Alzheimer’s.

An X-ray image of a deep brain stimulation implant. Source: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

One 85-year-old study participant showed dramatic improvement. At the start of the trial, she was not doing any meal preparation but after two years of deep brain stimulation, she could independently initiate preparations of a simple meal, assemble ingredients and cook. She was also able to organize an outing, including arranging transportation and destination, planning for the weather and bringing the needed money. She also regained independence to select her clothing attire, researchers noted.

Non-surgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe will also be explored to devise less invasive treatment options to slow down the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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