A pioneering ‘brain pacemaker’ can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s by increasing their focus and attention, a study has found.
Symptoms improved in all three patients after the new device – similar to a heart pacemaker – was fitted directly into their skulls.
Researchers were ‘encouraged’ after one of the sufferers can now cook a meal – a simple task she was completely unable to do before the trial.
LaVonne Moore, 85, from Delaware, Ohio, is also playing her favourite hymns on the piano, years after being struck down by the incurable disease.
The delicate surgery involves drilling holes in the skull and implanting thin electrical wires into the frontal lobes of the brains.
Researchers were shocked after one of the sufferers, LaVonne Moore, 85, can now cook a meal – a simple task she was completely unable to do before the trial (pictured with husband Tom)
DID THE PACEMAKER WORK? 85-YEAR-OLD SUFFERER IS NOW ABLE TO COOK A MEAL – A SIMPLE TASK SHE COULDN’T DO BEFORE
Each patient showed improvement during the Ohio State University of Deep Brain Stimulation on dementia.
LaVonne Moore, 85, of Delaware, Ohio, was not doing any meal preparation when she entered the study in 2013.
After two years of the pioneering treatment she could prepare a simple meal on her own – assembling the ingredients and cooking them.
She was able to organise an outing including arranging transportation and destination, planning for the weather and bringing the required money.
Each patient showed improvement during the Ohio State University of Deep Brain Stimulation on dementia, including LaVonne Moore (pictured)
Mrs Moore also regained independence to select her clothing attire, the results published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed.
Her husband Tom, 89, said her Alzheimer’s has progressed – but more slowly than he expected.
He said: ‘LaVonne has had Alzheimer’s disease longer than anybody I know – and that sounds negative.
‘But it’s really a positive thing because it shows we’re doing something right.” He said she didn’t hesitate to volunteer.
He said she he told him: ‘I will do anything to help others not go through what I’m going through.’
It is already used to reverse cognitive decline in more than 135,000 people with Parkinson’s disease.
Ohio State University researchers conducted the first attempt at using the gadget for dementia, which came back with promising results.
Dr Douglas Scharre, co-author of the research, suggested that it offers a whole new approach to combating the devastating condition.
He said: ‘We have many memory aides, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer’s patients with memory.
‘But we don’t have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions.
‘These skills are necessary in performing daily tasks such as making the bed, choosing what to eat and having meaningful socialising with friends and family.’
Dr Scharre said the pilot study shows promise in enabling Alzheimer’s patients to retain mental function for longer – improving their quality of life.
Most treatments focus on improving memory, but his team aimed at slowing the decline of problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Researchers implanted the device in the hope of boosting their cognitive and behavioural skills. The findings were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Called deep brain stimulation (DBS), the device is similar to a cardiac pacemaker except the wires are implanted in the brain rather than the heart.
Electrodes send electrical impulses to specific parts of the organ.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
Dr Scharre said: ‘The frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organise and plan and utilise good judgments.
‘By stimulating this region of the brain the Alzheimer’s subjects cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined more slowly than Alzheimer’s patients in a matched comparison group not being treated with DBS.’
The study found the implant reduced the overall decline in performance typically seen in people with mild or early stage Alzheimer’s.
Dr Ali Rezai, another co-author of the study, said the findings suggest DBS should be investigated further in the coming years.
The researchers now plan to explore non-surgical methods to stimulate the frontal lobe – which would be a less invasive option to slow down symptoms.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of degenerative dementia, affecting an estimated 500,000 Britons and more than five million Americans.
These figures are expected to triple to two million and 16 million respectively by 2050.
The disease – which has no cure and is not easily managed – becomes progressively disabling with loss of memory, cognition and worsening behavioural function in addition to a gradual loss of independence.
DBS is a surgical procedure that has become an established NHS treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers whose condition does not respond to drugs.
Experts welcomed the findings and described the results as ‘encouraging’.
But they said it was too early to ‘draw any firm conclusions’ as only three participants took part in the study and more research is needed.
Dr Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Given that we haven’t had any new treatments for dementia in over a decade it’s encouraging to see techniques from other diseases being tested for dementia.
‘But it will need further more in depth research before we can draw any firm conclusions.’