With sobering statistics regarding Alzheimer's, the brain pacemaker is set to offer treatment to those suffering from the disease.
Alzheimer's affects five million people and by 2050, the total could rise to 16 million. The disease currently costs the nation $259 million but by 2050, the costs are estimated to rise to $1.1 trillion. Every 66 seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and it's currently the sixth leading cause of death among Americans. Despite these facts, there is no cure for the disease, but scientists are working to change that.
Researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center studied the effects of a brain pacemaker on three patients. The patients had wires surgically implanted to the frontal lobe of the brain to see if a brain pacemaker could aid patients to combat the disease. The Ohio State University spoke with Dr. Douglas Scharre, co-author of the study and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center about the research. "We have a lot of tools and treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory, but we don't have anything to help with daily tasks such as making the bed, choosing what to eat and socializing with friends and family," he said. "The frontal lobe is responsible for things like problem solving, organization and good judgment. By stimulating this region of the brain, patients' cognitive functionality declined more slowly than a typical Alzheimer's patient."
They also reported that Scharre worked with neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai, former director of Ohio State's Neurological Institute for the research. "This DBS brain pacemaker technology is commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease and tremor. Our study findings suggest that modulation of frontal lobe networks by DBS holds promise for improving connectivity, cognitive and functional performance, and should be further studied in Alzheimer's disease," he said in a piece by The Ohio State University.
The implantation, known as deep brain stimulation, works nearly the same way as a cardiac pacemaker except that the wires are connected to the brain rather than the heart. A patch on the chest will send an electrical current through the wires to the frontal lobe of the brain. Of the three patients, 85-year-old LaVonne Moore has shown signs of significant improvement in the three and a half years that she's had the pacemaker. In a video with Moore and her husband Tom, Dr. Scharre is seen offering treatment to LaVonne after she and Tom sought out ways to help her. Dr. Scharre's treatment is more focused on functionality than on improving memory. When asked about the results Dr. Scharre said, "they had increased focus and increased attention."
All three patients have seen significant improvement in their symptoms and two of the three regressed slower than a typical Alzheimer's patient.
If you'd like to learn more about Alzheimer's be sure to visit the Alzheimer's Association website.
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