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Memories are what make us human, and little is more precious than our memories of loved ones. It’s no surprise, then, that the loss of memory is a terrifying prospect for anyone who knows someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of the condition. Whether you know someone with Alzheimer’s or not, it’s encouraging to know there are treatments being developed to help patients cope. In particular, TMS therapy may be able to provide some relief from symptoms by targeting certain areas of the brain. Let’s take a closer look at this emerging treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and explore why so many researchers believe it could be an effective treatment in the near future.
What is TMS Therapy?
TMS stands for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and it’s a type of therapy that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate certain areas of the brain. Thanks to its non-invasive nature, TMS therapy has become a popular treatment option for those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. People with Alzheimer’s can also benefit from TMS therapy, and it’s thought that this method of treatment could even help slow or halt the disease’s progression. Generally speaking, TMS therapy is administered using a large electromagnetic device that’s placed against the patient’s head. The device emits a pulse that travels through the scalp and into the brain, stimulating certain regions (such as the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory storage and retrieval).
How Does TMS Therapy Work?
In patients with Alzheimer’s, one of the first signs of decline is often a decline in memory. Unfortunately, memories are stored in many different areas of the brain, and one of the first to be affected by Alzheimer’s is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is located at the base of the brain and is responsible for storing and retrieving memories, processing emotions, and spatial navigation. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the hippocampus can be particularly hard hit, and many patients end up with anterograde amnesia, meaning they have trouble forming new memories. That’s where TMS therapy comes in. By targeting the hippocampus using electromagnetic pulses, TMS may be able to help patients with Alzheimer’s form new memories. This can help patients live more normal lives and can even provide some comfort to their loved ones.
How Effective is TMS for Alzheimer’s?
TMS therapy for Alzheimer’s is still in the early stages of research, but there is promising evidence that it could be an effective treatment in the not-too-distant future. Many studies have shown that TMS therapy can restore impaired learning and memory, and it’s even been shown to help some people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease improve their memory. As this is a relatively new treatment, it’s not yet known how long the effects of TMS therapy last or whether the benefits are permanent. However, TMS therapy has been shown to have some lasting effects in patients with other neurological disorders, such as stroke and depression.
Who Can Receive TMS Treatment?
While TMS therapy can be an effective treatment for some patients with Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t work for everyone. Depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms, the effectiveness of TMS therapy could vary. For example, someone with very early-stage Alzheimer’s might see some benefit from the treatment, while someone with later-stage symptoms may see very little change. There are also some patients who should not receive TMS therapy, such as pregnant women and those who have an implant in their head, such as an epidural or a shunt.
Side Effects of TMS Therapy
Generally speaking, TMS therapy is a safe and non-invasive treatment that can help patients with Alzheimer’s. However, as with any medical treatment, it can come with some side effects. Generally speaking, the side effects of TMS therapy are mild and typically last only while the treatment is being administered. Patients may experience headaches while the electromagnetic pulses are hitting their head, but these side effects usually go away once the pulses stop. Other side effects of TMS therapy could include nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and itching at the site of the electromagnetic pulses. Patients could also experience temporary confusion, but these side effects are rare.
As we’ve explored in this article, TMS therapy is a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. When administered correctly, this treatment could help patients with Alzheimer’s form new memories and improve their quality of life. Researchers are still conducting more studies to determine how effective this treatment is and how best to administer it.
*Weiler M, Stieger KC, Long JM, Rapp PR. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Alzheimer’s Disease: Are We Ready? eNeuro. 2020 Jan 7;7(1):ENEURO.0235-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0235-19.2019. PMID: 31848209; PMCID: PMC6948923.
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