Researchers and scientists worldwide tackle Alzheimer’s Disease’s high threat status for aging adults. The gradually debilitating disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.; it kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans live with the disease today, a number that could reach 16 million by 2050. We’ve written about work in Alzheimer’s detection and studies of brain training to slow the disease progression.

Ohio State researchers implanted thin electrical wires in the frontal lobes of the brains of three Alzheimer’s patients. The purpose of this deep brain stimulation (DBS) was to study whether a pacemaker-like implant could improve cognitive, functional, and behavioral skills and slow the rate of cognitive impairment for problem-solving and decision-making skills. While other groups focus on implants that stimulate memory, the OSU team is exploring another approach, placing the implants in areas of the brain responsible for behavior and cognition.

Led by Dr. Doublas Scharre, study co-author and director of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, the research team published the study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The implants slowed the disease progression in all three patients. One of the patients — an 85-year old woman who is cared for by her 89-year old husband — has regained her lost ability to prepare meals and can organize trips, select clothing, and even play her favorite music on the piano after three and a half years with the implant. Her husband reports her disease still progresses, but at a much slower rate than he expected.

The Ohio State studies continue. The next focus for the researchers is using non-surgical techniques to stimulate the frontal lobe in the hope of discovering less-invasive treatment options for slowing Alzheimer’s degeneration.