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Potential New Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

Insertion of a deep brain stimulator (DBS), a device similar to a pacemaker for the brain, may improve memory and function for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Recent research showed that after implanting a DBS in six patients with Alzheimer’s, half of the patients had either improved memory, or a slower rate of decline.

“We showed that not only is this a safe procedure, but that the evidence is there to warrant a bigger trial,” according to Dr. Andres Lozano and colleagues at Toronto Western Hospital, who conducted the research. “Any amount of time that extends quality of life and quality years to someone with Alzheimer’s may be a benefit.”

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia among older people, and affects more than five million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Organization.

“Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by functional impairment in the neural elements and circuits underlying cognitive and memory functions,” according to Lozano. Initially, affected individuals have mild memory problems, which progress over time, to the point of needing total care.  Other, later symptoms can include anxiety, wandering, and aggression.  No treatment can stop the disease. However, some drugs, may delay the progression of the disease, and others, including antipsychotics, may help treat certain symptoms for a limited time.

Lozano and his team investigated the theory that electrical stimulation of structures deep in the brain, including the hypothalamus, might improve symptoms by enrolling six willing participants with early signs of Alzheimer’s in their study.

Each patient left the hospital within three days after the study and continued their standard medical therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as continuous stimulation from the implanted device for one year.

During that time, the subjects were assessed in several ways, including cognitive testing, brain mapping, and imaging.  Their cognitive function was evaluated by several different types of measurement scales. Positive emission tomography (PET) scans, a type of brain scan that measures metabolic activity, were used to assess the way the DBS device changed glucose metabolism in the brain.  (Alzheimer’s disease can alter how glucose is used in the brain.)

In half of the patients, by six or 12 months, their cognitive function had either improved or had declined at a slower rate than expected.  “Evaluation of the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale cognitive subscale and the Mini Mental State Examination suggested possible improvements and/or slowing in the rate of cognitive decline at 6 and 12 months in some patients,” according to the researchers.

In addition, the PET scans showed that the abnormal glucose metabolism typically seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease improved after insertion of the DPS device, and the improvement continued throughout the year of followup.

None of the patients had any serious side effects during the year after the device was implanted.

Although Lozano’s  study is small, the results are encouraging. Future, larger studies may provide more information on a potentially effective therapy for treating Alzheimer’s disease, or slowing the decline, which could complement additional therapies.

“There is an urgent need for novel therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer’s disease. Modulating pathological brain activity in this illness with DBS merits further investigation.”

Lozano’s results can be found in the August editions of the Annals of Neurology.

Source: Annals of Neurology

Potential New Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

Jessica Ward Jones, MD, MPH

APA Reference
Jones, J. (2019). Potential New Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Mar 2019 (Originally: 10 Aug 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Mar 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.