Deep Brain Stimulation Improves the Lives of Alzheimer’s Patients

In a medical first, surgeons implanted a brain ‘pacemaker’ into the frontal lobes of three individuals. Functioning just as a pacemaker regulates the heart, an electrode was able to stimulate brain cells. This means that in the future, Alzheimer’s patients may be able to better care for themselves.

Although based on a small sample size, this recent study provides a sense of hope for patients who fear that they will lose their abilities to this disease.

Study Finds Surgical Brain Stimulation Improves Brain Activity

As published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, this small trial studied three Alzheimer’s patients. Two years have now passed and the results are promising.

After implementing a device in the brain of these participants, they all showed improvements. One of the participants, age 85, was unable to get dressed or cook prior to this surgery. Now, two years later, she is able to prepare her own food and plan outings. She is even able to play the piano, a skill she thought she might have lost.

To help summarize this brain pacemaker, here are some of the most relevant pieces of information:

  • Implants were surgically placed in the area of the brain responsible for functions such as problem-solving, judgment, and planning. Electrical currents were then sent from a battery pack in the chest to an electrode in the brain. This process is referred to as deep brain stimulation.
  • Unlike most interventions, which have focused on clearing plaques, this trial focused specifically on everyday function. By improving judgment and decision making skills, daily tasks can become more manageable.
  • This is why the electrode was implanted into the frontal lobes. This area of the brain helps humans solve complex problems, plan, and use good judgment. Although this operation led to positive results, Dr. Douglas Scharre and his team at Ohio State University are exploring less invasive options.

This team of researchers concluded that although these findings are promising, it is only “one small piece of the puzzle.” Treating Alzheimer’s will involve numerous components, including medications and preventative measures.

More on Deep Brain Stimulation

This recent trial is not the first of its kind. In fact, deep brain stimulation (DBS) was first introduced in the late 1980s. Originally studied to improve movement disorders, this form of therapy has been used to treat more than 100,000 people around the globe. Based on various clinical trials, this procedure is believed to be safe and effective for patients with:

In 2015, a study conducted at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore explored DBS in rats. Electrodes were implanted in rats, targeting the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. The rats were shown to improve in relation to memory tasks. The researchers also noticed that in comparison to the control group, new neurons were being formed in the brains of the experimental rats.

As DBS research continues on a global scale, this has led to some ethical concerns. Including whether or not subjects possess adequate decision-making capacity. Also, scientific goals tend to have priority over therapeutic goals. These concerns will be considered when designing future studies.

How to Naturally Protect Your Brain

The studies above were highly specific in that they targeted key areas of the brain. They also utilized surgical electrodes to better control electrical impulses. Although you cannot achieve deep brain stimulation in the comfort of your home, you can stimulate your brain.

The following recommendations are intended for individuals who have not yet developed a neurodegenerative disease. The key is actively intervening while enforcing preventive measures. Of course, nothing is guaranteed but at the very least, these suggestions can boost brain power and improve neural health.

As always, before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, please consult your physician.

  • Remain in good physical health. This means managing your weight, exercising regularly, and consuming a balanced diet. Exercise has been shown to enhance the growth of new neurons and antioxidant-rich foods can reduce oxidative stress. This includes foods such as kale, blueberries, and green tea.
  • Challenge your brain. Whether you have always wanted to learn a new language or learn how to knit, these tasks are a workout for your mind.
  • Stay connected. Remaining social is imperative and the research shows that when you are part of a larger social network, you can reduce your risk of cognitive decline.
  • Make sleep a priority. To learn more, please refer to Another Reason to Rethink Your Current Sleep Routine.

For even more tips and preventative measures, please read Powerful Risk Factors That May Prevent One-Third of Dementia Cases.

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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