Could Brain Stimulation Be the Next Possible Alzheimer’s Treatment?

The effects of brain stimulation are not new. However, the benefits of deep brain stimulation may offer a more targeted therapy option for those living with Alzheimer’s.

For more than 30 years, deep brain stimulation (DBS) implants have treated the tremors of Parkinson’s patients. Although approved by the FDA, this treatment option has remained an experimental therapy for those with Alzheimer’s.

New research is now showing that DBS provides key benefits for Alzheimer’s patients over the age of 65.

New Study Highlights the Benefits of DBS for Alzheimer’s Patients

A new study has concluded that patients over the age of 65 who are living with Alzheimer’s may benefit from the effects of DBS. Headed by Dr. Andres Lozano, this research took place at Toronto Western Hospital’s Krembil Neuroscience Centre.

These recent data was from the Phase II trial and is part of the Advance trial, which will soon move into Phase III. The first year of data was published in 2016. In that first trial, 42 patients living with mild Alzheimer’s were implanted with DBS electrodes. These electrodes were directed at the fornix (which is a bundle of nerve fibers that carry signals from the hippocampus).

These patients were followed for two years. In the first 12 months, the patients were randomly assigned to either the “on” or “off” stimulation group. Following this initial stage, all patients then had their electrodes turned on for the next 12 months (which represented Phase II of the Advance trial).

What was interesting was that there were no differences in cognitive outcomes between the “on” and “off” group. However, a slower rate of decline was observed among patients 65 years or older as a result of the DBS treatment, compared to those who were younger.

They also found that when receiving electrical stimulation, the patients’ brains were able to more effectively metabolize glucose. This means that DBS appears to improve brain networks that become dysfunctional as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

This Research Will Continue

Encouraged by their findings, the researchers will continue to explore the benefits of this specific demographic. The research team will soon launch Phase III, which will be a multi-center international trial studying the effects of DBS of the fornix in 140 patients over the age of 65.

The goal of Phase III is to determine whether or not DBS is something that will continue to benefit this age group. If it does, DBS may provide a new potential treatment option for patients living with mild, late-onset Alzheimer’s. The researchers have already concluded that this potential treatment is safe. They will now conduct more research to determine whether or not DBS is both a safe and effective treatment option.

The Limitations of DBS

Although exciting, it is important to note that DBS does currently have some limitations. While this treatment is now a standard procedure among Parkinson’s patients, it does require brain surgery. Adjustments are also necessary at the beginning to find the optimal settings for each individual patient. This requires ambulatory visits following surgery.

When it comes to exploring DBS as a potential treatment, there are two major hurdles. The first is funding and the second is finding study candidates. One of the main reasons why Alzheimer’s trials are so expensive is because it is a slowly progressive disease. This means that the trials are longer and require ongoing funding.

At this time, the Alzheimer’s Association is focusing their attention on all types of treatment options. The core goal is to treat this disease as effectively as possible with device approaches such as DBS, through drug therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Introducing BrainTest®

For those who are currently concerned about their level of cognitive thinking, the BrainTest® app can support early intervention. This assessment tool helps users detect the potential early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. Baseline results can then be discussed with a physician and tracked across time. 

Take your first test for free. You can find out more about this app here.

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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