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Implanted Brain Stimulator for Alzheimer's Tested

They hope the device will restore some thinking ability and improve focus, attention

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In addition to the evaluation of thinking-related functions, the researchers look for brain wave changes and perform MRI scans, PET imaging, brain scans and spinal fluid analysis. Scharre said the researchers will need a year's worth of data to assess each patient and about two years to achieve the goal of involving 10 people in the research.

The first person to have the pacemaker implanted was Kathy Sanford, 57, who has early onset Alzheimer's and has just finished 12 weeks of stimulation. "Initially, we've seen some improvements in speed of processing and she did better on shifting tasks," reported Scharre. "While we're happy we're seeing changes, I would be very, very cautious; the real test is whether we see sustained effects over time."

Kathy's father, Joseph Jester, said the family has already seen signs that Kathy's memory is improving.

Kathy is highly motivated to participate in the study, Jester explained. "She has two daughters and a grandson who she is worried about, and [she] hopes if this treatment works, they would have an alternative should they inherit this disease."

Jester said while he appreciates the opportunity for Kathy to participate in the study, it has been time consuming and sometimes disappointing as the physicians adjust and readjust pacemaker settings. "The doctors assure us that [her settings] are on the best place possible and we need patience as she goes forward from here."

As for other potential downsides to participating in the research, the two patients who have had the pacemakers and battery packs surgically placed have had no complications, according to Scharre. Should they have any problems associated with the actual stimulation, it's easy to just turn it off, he noted.

Experts encouraged caution at this point in the study.

"This is interesting but preliminary research," said Maria Carrillo, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association. But it is good to see alternative treatment methods for Alzheimer's are being tested, she added.

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