Zapping the brain to boost mental function: a new way to treat Alzheimer's?

There have been many different approaches searching for an effective method to treat Alzheimer's disease.  A new trial currently underway at Harvard Medical School/Beth Israeli Deaconess Medical Centre is using a device that combines electromagnetic stimulation with cognitive training.  

If you think this sounds somewhat Frankensteinish, previous studies have already shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can enhance mathematical skills, memory, attention and language learning.

 

Our neurons use electrical and chemical signals to transmit information. So here the idea is to boost brain function by applying an external current.

 

The results so far are encouraging. The participants who have mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease undergo the treatment for one hour each day, five days a week over six weeks. The improvements appear to last for between 9-12 months.

The cognitive improvement was significantly greater than in those subjects who had received only prescribed medication in the form of cholinesterase inhibitors.

 

Obviously for someone with Alzheimer's disease who may have an expected lifespan of around 10 years, being able to stay at home living with a milder form of disease has a lot going for it.

 

The CEO of the company Neuronix has hopes the device will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by late 2014. He also commented that patients would be able to return for return treatments to "top up" the effect.

 

Apart from a mild headache reported by up to 20% of the participants, no other side effects have been reported.

 

Trials are continuing in the U.S until the end of 2013 and Neuronix has been approved for use in Europe. A different trial is being conducted in Israel using subjects with pre-Alzheimer's.

 

So, it may not be long before we could be looking at boosting our thinking skills with a quick zap and some cognitive (brain) training.