Brain ‘Pacemaker:’ A Device That Might Help Slow Alzheimer’s?

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Stimulating the brain with an implantable device may be safe — and possibly helpful — for some people with Alzheimer’s disease, a small pilot study suggests.

In what researchers described as a “proof of concept” treatment, three Alzheimer’s patients had deep brain stimulation (DBS) wires implanted in the brain — in areas related to skills like planning, judgment and problem-solving.

Over the next 18 months or more, the tactic appeared to be safe. And there were “signals” that it was slowing down two of the patients’ decline, said lead researcher Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of cognitive neurology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Deep brain stimulation is already used to treat some cases of Parkinson’s disease and certain other brain disorders.

But it’s far too early to know whether it has value for people with Alzheimer’s, Scharre stressed.

“This is not ready for prime time,” he said. “It’s not something patients can ask their neurologist for.”

Keith Fargo, who directs scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, agreed.

It’s “much too early” for patients or caregivers to seek out DBS, said Fargo, who was not involved in the study.

Instead, he said, these findings suggest that deep brain stimulation is “a reasonable route” to study in larger clinical trials.

The results were published online Jan. 30 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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SOURCES: Douglas Scharre, M.D., director, cognitive neurology, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus; Keith Fargo, Ph.D., director, scientific programs and outreach, Alzheimer's Association, Chicago; Jan. 30, 2018, Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, online

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