Moreover, the improvement among those in both groups remained two months after the treatments.
rTMS did not change other language abilities or cognitive functions, including memory. This suggests that in this context rTMS is specifically related to language comprehension, Cotelli's group says.
How rTMS might work is not clear, the researchers noted. This stimulation may change activity in the brain and readjust unhealthy patterns caused by disease or damage, they speculated.
There is some evidence for this theory. Imaging studies of people with congenital or acquired brain damage show certain areas of the brain seem to be plastic and cortical activity can be "reorganized," Cotelli's group added.
"Our findings provide initial evidence for the persistent beneficial effects of rTMS on sentence comprehension in Alzheimer's disease patients," Cotelli said. "Rhythmic rTMS, in conjunction with other therapeutic interventions, may represent a novel approach to the treatment of language dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease patients."
One expert believes the findings are interesting, but they need to be replicated and extended before their value can truly be known.
Catherine M. Roe, a research instructor in neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, called it "an intriguing study."
The results do seem to suggest that two to four weeks of rTMS treatment improved scores on a sentence-comprehension test among people with Alzheimer's disease, at least in the short term, she said.
However, "before concluding that the effects of the treatment are long-lasting, I think it would be important to also include in a study like this a group of participants who only received placebo treatment," Roe said.
As with all new research, it is also important to see whether the results can be shown in a larger, and different, group of people to
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