In a first, scientists have found that a brain pacemaker implant could help slow down the decline in problem-solving and decision-making skills in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, thin electrical wires were surgically implanted into the frontal lobes of the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers wanted to determine if using a brain pacemaker could improve cognitive, behavioural, and functional abilities in patients with this form of dementia.
The deep brain stimulation (DBS) implant is similar to a cardiac pacemaker device, except that the pacemaker wires are implanted in the brain rather than the heart.
"We have many memory aides, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory," said Douglas Scharre from The Ohio State University in the US.
"But we don't have anything to help with improving their judgements, 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," said Scharre.
The frontal lobes are responsible for our abilities to solve problems, organise and plan, and utilise good judgements, researchers said.
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, they said.
The pilot study found that DBS targeting frontal brain regions can reduce the overall performance decline typically seen in people with mild or early stage Alzheimers, Scharre said.
"This same technology has been successfully used to treat more than 135,000 patients worldwide with Parkinsons disease," said Ali Rezai from West Virginia University in the US.
"Our findings suggest that frontal network modulation to improve executive and behavioural deficits should be further studied in patients with Alzheimer's disease," said Rezai.