THURSDAY, March 28 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers are testing whether applying electrical stimulation directly to the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease might improve thinking, focus and alertness.
The process, called direct brain stimulation, or deep brain stimulation (DBS), has been used to treat Parkinson's disease and is being tested as a treatment for other conditions, including traumatic brain injuries and obesity, according to the researchers.
Two women have had the electronic brain stimulators implanted, and eight more patients will participate in this initial research.
"There are a lot of studies out there that say physical or mental stimulation may reduce the risk or impact of Alzheimer's disease, so we wondered if increasing stimulation to certain parts of the brain may be protective," explained study co-author Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the division of cognitive neurology at Ohio State University.
Scharre said that while Alzheimer's tends to affect the temporal, parietal and frontal lobes of the brain, he wanted to focus particularly on the frontal lobe for two reasons: it's typically the last brain area to degenerate, and its functions -- decision-making, problem-solving, focus and alertness -- are necessary for a person to be independent.
Placing the DBS system involves two steps. First, in a surgical procedure that requires about a three-day hospital stay, the patient has tiny holes made in each side of the skull, and hair-thin wires are placed in precise spots of the brain using computer-guided technology. The wires are fed through the neck -- in the subcutaneous tissue just under the skin -- and left there for about a week while the burr holes heal, explained Scharre.
Then, in an outpatient surgery, the patient has two battery packs that look like heart pacemakers placed on each side of the chest. The wires placed the
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