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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Implanted Brain Stimulator for Alzheimer's Tested

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


The research could potentially be of value to millions of Americans: a recent report from the Alzheimer's Association found that one in every three seniors now dies while suffering from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease becomes progressively disabling with loss of memory, thinking skills, the ability to socialize and independence.

To assess the effects of DBS, the researchers give short tests to the patients, starting about two months after the surgeries, to evaluate their level of attention and alertness, and to see how fast they can complete a particular task. For example, one test shows a variety of different geometric shapes all over the page, and [the patient] is asked to pick out all the stars in a 30-second timeframe.

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."

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