Brain pacemaker keeps Alzheimer's patients functioning

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Brain pacemaker keeps Alzheimer's patients functioning - Rick Williams reports during Action News at noon on January 30, 2018. (WPVI)

A new pilot study may pave the way for a technique to slow the decline from Alzheimer's disease.

It involved deep brain stimulation, similar to what is being used to control epileptic seizures, sleep apnea, and tremors from Parkinson's disease.

Doctors at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center surgically implanted wires into the frontal lobes in the brains of 3 Alzheimer's patients.

These are the regions used for thinking, decision-making, and planning.

The wires were then attached to a pacemaker in the chest, which delivers tiny electric currents to the brain.

The results for the 3 patients were remarkable.

The progression of the disease slowed, and for 2 patients, it was significantly slower than a typical Alzheimer's patient.

"They had increased focus, increased attention," says Dr. Douglass Scharre

"This study was for at least 18 months, so this was a long-term study. So it had a prolonged effect on these patients," added Dr. Scharre.

The improvement has lasted since the electrodes were implanted.

Tom Moore says his wife LaVonne is still able to play her favorite hymns on the family piano.

"LaVonne has had Alzheimer's probably longer than anybody else I know, and that sounds negative, but on the other hand, that's good," he says.

Results of the study were published online in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Ohio State researchers are continuing their studies on deep brain stimulation.

However, they are also exploring less-invasive methods, such as high-intensity focused ultrasound, to stimulate the frontal lobes.

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