An estimated fifty million people around the world suffer from dementia. With this in mind, there are growing concerns among charities, healthcare professionals and the public over the lack of success in finding new treatment options for those living with the disease. However, a new breakthrough may have been made by scientists thanks to a new study which has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study has shown that a brain “pacemaker” could be used in Alzheimer’s patients, and was shown in trials to be safe for humans, making it a possible treatment option in the future. DBS therapy is currently used to treat over 135,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease, but the use of it on Alzheimer’s patients hasn’t been investigated thoroughly yet.

Of the small number of previous studies carried out, the main focus was on stimulated the regions of the brain that govern memory, rather than judgment. Dr Douglas Scharre and colleagues at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center who conducted the study, believe their approach, which targets the decision-making frontal lobe of the brain, could be used to help patients keep their independence for longer.

“We have many memory aides, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer’s patients with memory,” said Dr Scharre, “But we don’t have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions. By stimulating this region of the brain, the Alzheimer’s subjects cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer’s patients in a matched comparison group not being treated with DBS.”

Dr Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Previous research with deep brain stimulation in Alzheimer’s has shown mixed results, but studies have not focused on brain regions responsible for decision making and problem-solving before. “

“While memory is a key problem in Alzheimer’s, changes in thinking skills have an equally devastating impact, so it’s important that treatment approaches address these symptoms too. This small Phase One trial is useful in demonstrating that this invasive treatment is safe and has no serious side-effects in Alzheimer’s, but the observed benefits in two of the patients must be treated with caution.”

“There is a large amount of ongoing research to develop new drug treatments for dementia, but it’s important that research also explores non-drug avenues of treatment. With 50 million people in the world living with dementia today, it is vital we continue to invest in a broad range of approaches to improve people’s lives.”

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