Deep brain stimulation using surgical wire implants into the frontal lobes of the brain of Alzheimer's patients may help improve cognitive, behavioral, and functional abilities of the patients.
This was the outcome of a research at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center that used deep brain stimulation to delay the progress of Alzheimer's through what they call "proof of concept" treatment.
While other Alzheimer's treatment methods focus on improving the memory of patients, the study is discovering ways on how to improve the patient's problem-solving and decision-making skills that are necessary for performing daily tasks.
"We have many memory aids, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory, but we don't have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions," said study co-author Dr. Douglas Scharre of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center's Neurological Institute.
Stimulating The Frontal Lobe
The study's objective was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of deep brain stimulation of the brain's frontal lobe region to improve the cognitive functions of Alzheimer's patients.
Deep brain stimulation was proved effective in treating Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions.
The controlled research involved three patients with early-stage Alzheimer's and receiving medication and treatment at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. The patients received DBS in the frontal lobe for 18 months.
The frontal lobe is considered as the control panel of the brain. It is responsible for motor functions, problem solving, memory, judgment, impulse control including the social and sexual behavior of a person. It is also primarily responsible for spontaneity, language, and emotional expression.
"We chose this target that focuses on these cells that are still functioning pretty well, not actively degenerating like the memory circuits," said Scharre.
"Use it or lose it" is most applicable when it comes to cognitive functions of the brain. Stimulating neurons in the brains with electrodes can keep them active enough to slow down the build-up of toxic neurons like amyloid plaques.
Likewise, if key brain areas can be stimulated to form new connections with cells, the overall decline might slow down.
Deep Brain Stimulation Technique
Although the patients that underwent DBS showed a decline in their cognitive skills, the decline was at a slower rate compared to 96 other patients in the comparison group.
According to the researchers, the results were promising. In fact, two of the DBS patients declined at a meaningfully slower rate while the other one showed some improvements.
The patient that showed improvement was LaVonne Moore, 85, of Delaware, Ohio. After two years of DBS, Moore regained her skill of preparing meals and was better able to perform other simple tasks like selecting her clothes and organizing outings.
Not Yet Ready
However, although promising, using DBS as an option for treatment of Alzheimer's would not be for everyone, including people who are frail or have other serious medical conditions.
Side effects of the treatment included hot flashes, heart palpitations, and burning sensations in the skin, which were reversed by adjusting the DBS settings, according to the study.
To date, more than 5 million Americans have the neurogenerative disease and an estimate of 15 million people in the United States will have Alzheimer's by the year 2060 according to The Alzheimer's Association.
The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.