Stimulating the brain with magnetic pulses might help people with Alzheimer's disease improve their use of language, new research suggests. However, this treatment is still highly experimental and has been tested on very few people.
What do we know already?
Alzheimer's disease affects more than 400,000 people in the UK. Over time, it damages people's ability to think, remember things, and use language. There are several drugs that can slow down the progress of the disease, but there's no cure, and most treatments have fairly small effects. Alzheimer's charities stress the importance of practical support to help patients and carers cope, and to help people live independently for as long as possible.
In recent years, researchers have developed techniques that use magnetic pulses to influence the electrical activity in people's brains. The magnetic pulses travel through the skull, so there's no need for surgery.
Small-scale studies have looked at using magnetic stimulation for several conditions, including migraine, Parkinson's disease, and depression. A new study has now looked at magnetic stimulation as a treatment for people with Alzheimer's disease.
What does the new study say?
People who had magnetic stimulation showed a small, short-term improvement in their ability to use language. For two weeks, half the people in the study had magnetic stimulation, and the other half had sham treatment with an inactive device. People had five sessions a week, each one lasting 25 minutes.
Over the two weeks, people who'd had magnetic stimulation improved their scores on a language test looking at sentence comprehension. The average starting score was 67, which increased to 77 after treatment. People who had sham stimulation scored an average of 66 points at the start of the study, and didn't improve over the two weeks.