Can electrical currents in the brain improve memory loss?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania will test an approach called "deep brain stimulation" in Alzheimer's patients.

 

During deep brain stimulation, tiny electrodes implanted into a patient's brain deliver a weak current to specific regions, either to spark activity or inhibit it.

It's been successful in reducing Parkinson's symptoms, as well as treating depression.

Neurologist David Wolk and other Penn researchers will now study whether it can help patients with mild Alzheimer's.

"One of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's is memory loss, specifically episodic memory loss -- what you had for breakfast, or what you did last night," explained Wolk. The intervention will target the brain region responsible for episodic memory.

"The goal of this study is to stimulate one part of that network," explained Wolk. "To turn on one part of that network to sort of reboot, if you will, the entire network to see if that enhances memory function and improves overall functioning in people with Alzheimer's disease."

In a previous small study conducted in Toronto, scientists saw promising results with this intervention.

"Those areas in the brain actually showed an increase in brain activity compared to their baseline, so there was some normalization of brain activity with the deep brain stimulation," Wolk said.

Wolk says the Penn Memory Center is one of five sites in the U.S. participating in the study. The hope is to reduce symptoms, and possibly reverse some of the disease's effects on the brain.