Life Lessons

Life Lessons: Brain pacemaker for Alzheimer's

While most treatments for Alzheimer’s disease focus on improving memory, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center conducted a study aimed at slowing the decline of problem solving and decision-making skills in these patients.

For the first time ever, thin electrical wires were surgically implanted into the frontal lobes of the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease to determine if using a brain pacemaker could improve cognitive, behavioral, and functional abilities in patients with this form of dementia.

The deep brain stimulation (DBS) implant is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device, except that the pacemaker wires are implanted in the brain rather than the heart. Findings of the study are published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“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,” said Dr. Douglas Scharre, co-author of the study and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “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.”

Scharre collaborated with neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai, the former director of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute who is now leading the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute at West Virginia University, to conduct the clinical trial.

All three patients who received DBS slowed the progression of their symptoms, including LaVonne Moore. Three and a half years later, she’s still able to play her favorite hymns on the piano. Her husband, Tom Moore, says her Alzheimer’s disease has progressed, but more slowly than he expected.

“LaVonne has had Alzheimer’s disease longer than anybody I know, and that sounds negative, but it’s really a positive thing because it shows that we’re doing something right,” he said.


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