An Alzheimer's researcher of the Research Center and Advanced Studies (CINVESTAV) shows a piece of brain before cutting at Insituto Politecnico in Mexico City April 20, 2012. Alzheimer's is a progressive, degenerative disease that robs people of memory, reasoning and the ability to communicate. About 24 million people worldwide have the disease according to the World Health Organization. In Mexico, 600,000 Mexicans out of 9 million adults over the age 60 suffer from Alzheimer's, according to the Institute of Geriatrics (INGER). Picture taken April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido (MEXICO - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY) (Photo : REUTERS)
Alzheimer's disease researchers are experimenting with "brain pacemakers" as a way to treat the hallmark symptom of memory loss associated with the condition.
Scientists are broadening their research that had been previously based around developing drugs, and are now looking into these implants as a way to help Alzheimer's patients.
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Holes are drilled into a patient's skull so that wires can be strategically placed in different spots and constant electrical stimulation can take place. Researchers believe that this kind of therapy can possibly lessen the damage that dementia causes.
The study has just started and only a few dozen people diagnosed with early stages of the disease will receive these implants.
"This is an ongoing evaluation right now that we are optimistic about," Ohio State neurosurgeon Dr. Ali Rezai said.
Alzheimer's disease is becoming an increasingly prevalent condition as more cases of the illness are reported each year. One in eight Americans has the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. The number of cases will continue to rise as the baby boomers continue to age. In 2012, the Alzheimer's Association reported an estimated 5.4 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer's disease.
The medications that are available today only address certain symptoms of the disease temporarily.
"We're getting tired of not having other things work," Ohio State neurologist Dr. Douglas Scharre said.
But this new technique, called deep brain stimulation (DBS), will not address the source of the illness either. Scharre believes, however, that the new treatment might be able to make the brain work better.
The electrical impulses that are employed in this kind of treatment are already used to treat other conditions like Parkinson's disease. The belief is that the continuous surges of energy will dampen overactive nerve cells, leaving very few side effects. Scientists are also looking into stimulating other parts of the brain to see if it can help with conditions like depression and obesity.
The results from this study will not be conclusive for "years," according to Dr. Laurie Ryan from the National Institute of Health aging division.