Health Check: Surgery for Alzheimer's disease

    Geraldine Paquin recently made a regular visit to Butler Hospital's Memory and Aging Clinic. Her son-in-law, Paul Henriques, often accompanies her.

    Her doctor, Stephen Salloway, is the director of neurology and an Alzheimer's researcher.

    Paquin started noticing her memory was failing about two years ago.

    "Starting to go off somewhere to do something and had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do," Paquin said.

    "She'll forget in a matter of five minutes something you've said to her, so you'll find yourself repeating yourself a lot," Henriques said.

    Paquin recently agreed to take part in a study that will require surgery to treat her Alzheimer's disease. It's called deep brain stimulation.

    "It has full FDA approval for Parkinson's disease and tremor, and it has a humanitarian use for psychiatric conditions," Salloway said.

    Now it's being studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease to see if it can slow the progression and perhaps even restore memory.

    "It's a small surgery that is done stereotactically. That means using an MRI scan with careful measurement and then a frame is placed and the electrodes are guided by those measurements," Salloway said.

    Those electrodes will be placed in the memory area of the brain and connected to a stimulator, a pacemaker-like device in the chest wall.

    "Half the people will have the stimulator turned on during the first year and half won't and the patients won't know and I won't know," Salloway said.

    But after a year, all patients will have the stimulator turned on. Paquin qualified because she has mild Alzheimer's disease but functions well.

    "Any surgery I'm not happy about, but I will do anything that will help myself or help somebody else," Paquin said.

    This is national research funded by a company called Functional Neuromodulation and the National Institutes of Health, and locally, it involves a partnership between Butler and Rhode Island hospitals.

    Patients like Paquin are screened at Butler, and Dr. Rees Cosgrove of Rhode Island Hospital performs the surgery. Paquin's surgery is scheduled for Aug. 15.

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