'New ground' broken in Alzheimer's, dementia research, scientists say

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Deep brain stimulation, a procedure used to treat Parkinson's, epilepsy and chronic pain, enhanced the memory of epilepsy patients with memory problems, a small study has found. Neurologists say this result “breaks new ground” in exploratory treatments for Alzheimer's and dementia.

In a study of seven epilepsy patients, surgeons drilled holes in participants' skulls in order to stimulate the entorhinal area in the brain — one of the first areas to be damaged by Alzheimer's. When this area of the brain was stimulated, the participants demonstrated improvement in their short-term memory. When researchers stimulated an area just millimeters away, there was no benefit, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Investigators said that while much more research is needed, the next step is to test the technique on older memories, as that function also is greatly impacted by Alzheimer's.

The study was published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.