Magnet therapy could be the breakthrough needed to treat Alzheimer’s disease, it has been revealed. According to a new study, the non-invasive technique, which involves placing magnets on the head to change the activity of the brain, could soon be available as a treatment for the condition in the UK.
The research was carried out by scientists at McGill University in Montreal Canada and it found that memory can be improved through the use of magnets. It involves targeting the area of the brain that is responsible for sensory skills and reinvigorating it.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is delivered with the use of a portable skull cap that administers a short magnetic pulse through the scalp. Results from tests have already proven positive in combatting depression, schizophrenia and migraines, but Alzheimer’s disease is also thought to be reduced in the same way.
Dr Philippe Albouy, a cognitive psychologist and author of the study, said: “Now we know human behaviour can be specifically boosted using stimulation that matched ongoing, self-generated brain oscillations.
“Even more exciting is while this study investigated auditory memory, the same approach can be used for multiple cognitive processes such as vision, perception, and learning.”
As many different faculties are affected by dementia, the clinical applications of TMS could be wide-reaching. Compensating for the memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s could see them living independently for longer and enjoying a better quality of life in later years.
It is estimated that around 850,000 people in the UK are suffering from dementia, with that figure expected to rise to two million by 2050. While it is an area requiring much medical research, so far no cure has been found. Treatments that do exist simply help with the symptoms, but their efficacy diminishes over time.
Dr Robert Zatorre, co-author of the study, said: “The results are very promising, and offer a pathway for future treatments. We plan to do more research to see if we can make the performance boost last longer and if it works for other kinds of stimuli and tasks.”
Participants in the research were asked to remember a sequence of tones and then had them played back in reverse order. As they tried to identify them, their brains were scanned using magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG) techniques.
The magnetic and electric activity in the neurons of the brain gave an insight into cognitive function. This built on the knowledge already available that the dorsal stream – a specific neural network – is responsible for elements of auditory memory.
What had been previously unknown was what the role of theta waves – rhythmic electrical pulses in the dorsal stream – was. Now, their relationship with auditory memory has been discovered and it has been demonstrated that manipulating them can boost cognition.
The TMS treatment was only successful when it was aligned with the theta waves. In cases where it was arrhythmic, there were no improvements in completing the task and therefore no evidence that memory was better as a result, showing that the theta waves are key.