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Esther Heerema, MSW

Deep Brain Stimulation: A New Way to Treat Alzheimer's Disease?

By January 6, 2013

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Recently, Johns Hopkins Medicine announced the implantation of a devise that delivers electric impulses in the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease.  A pacemaker-like machine was also implanted in the person's chest to trigger the electrical currents to the wires in the brain. This procedure is called deep brain stimulation and in recent years, it has been used with some success for people with Parkinson's disease. This was the first procedure in the United States in someone with dementia.

Johns Hopkins also announced plans to implant this device in approximately 40 people over the next year as part of a study to measure the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation for those with early stage Alzheimer's. This follows a study that involved 6 people in Canada who also underwent this surgery in 2010 with moderate success.

Interestingly, the idea of using deep brain stimulation for Alzheimer's disease was discovered by accident. A chronically obese gentleman was undergoing the surgery for deep brain stimulation as a way to try to control his appetite. When researchers were experimenting with wire placement in his brain, he began to report a very vivid memory and when the electrical impulses were stopped, the memory faded. This led to the idea of researching deep brain stimulation for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

While more research is needed and is in the process of being conducted, deep brain stimulation is emerging as an interesting area of study in the field of Alzheimer's treatment.

For more on what deep brain stimulation is, how the procedure is conducted and for the results of the previous studies for people with Alzheimer's, please see: What Is Deep Brain Stimulation and How Can It Be Used to Treat Alzheimer's?

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