The application of magnets to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients can help them to better comprehend what others say to them, The Independent has claimed. This claim is based on a small-scale scientific study of an experimental magnetic therapy method called rTMS, which some people believe has the potential to reorganize brain cells, resulting in improved neurological functioning.
Over a period of about four weeks, five patients were treated with rTMS, and five were treated with a fake treatment for two weeks, followed by two weeks of treatment with actual rTMS. The rTMS was applied to the region of the brain known to be integral for both speech and communication, which often becomes impaired during over the course of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. After two weeks, those patients treated only with rTMS displayed improvement in sentence comprehension. Those receiving the fake treatment did not show any improvement in this regard. The fake group then improved a similar amount after two weeks of real rTMS.
Unfortunately, the method did not improve other language abilities, such as speaking, cognitive function, or memory function. Also, the design of this small-scale study means that it can’t tell us about the long-term effects, or potential harmful side-effects from rTMS. While the use of rTMS in cases of dementia will be of interest to neuro-scientists, it should be viewed as an experimental technique until large-scale, longer-term studies can do further evaluation.
The study was carried out by researchers from the IRCCS Centro San Giovanni di Dio Fatebenefratelli, and other educational and research institutes in Italy. The research was supported by a project grant from the Italian Ministry of Health and the Associazione Fatebenefratelli per la Ricerca (AFaR) research foundation. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.