Six weeks after the second surgery, the stimulator is turned on. "My job [as the neurologist] is to find the right settings to get the maximum benefit," said Scharre. Each wire has four contacts, providing a wide range of different voltage combinations, and the challenge is to determine the right amount to produce the best benefit, he explained.
The research could potentially be of value to millions of Americans: a recent report from the Alzheimer's Association found that one in every three seniors now dies while suffering from Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease becomes progressively disabling with loss of memory, thinking skills, the ability to socialize and independence.
To assess the effects of DBS, the researchers give short tests to the patients, starting about two months after the surgeries, to evaluate their level of attention and alertness, and to see how fast they can complete a particular task. For example, one test shows a variety of different geometric shapes all over the page, and [the patient] is asked to pick out all the stars in a 30-second timeframe.
In addition to the evaluation of thinking-related functions, the researchers look for brain wave changes and perform MRI scans, PET imaging, brain scans and spinal fluid analysis. Scharre said the researchers will need a year's worth of data to assess each patient and about two years to achieve the goal of involving 10 people in the research.
The first person to have the pacemaker implanted was Kathy Sanford, 57, who has early onset Alzheimer's and has just finished 12 weeks of stimulation. "Initially, we've seen some improvements in speed of processing and she did better on shifting tasks," reported Scharre. "While we're happy we're seeing changes, I would be very, very cautious; the real test is whether we see sustained effects over time."
Kathy's father, Joseph Jester, said
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