A recent study conducted in Italy has determined that applying magnets to the brains of Alzheimer's disease sufferers helps them to improve their understanding of what is said to them. The finding Italian scientists conducted a randomised controlled trial of the treatment, suggests that magnets may change the brain’s "cortical activity," and readjust unhealthy patterns created by disease or trauma. The small study involved 10 patients, and the results are preliminary.
But the scientists from Brescia and Milan say they "hold considerable promise, not only for advancing our understanding of brain plasticity mechanisms, but also for designing new rehabilitation strategies in patients with neurodegenerative disease."
Findings from the latest study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, are likely to be seized on as further evidence of magnetism's healing powers. This study is part of a body of research that has demonstrated the capacity of magnets to affect the working of the brain.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the technique investigated by the Italian scientists, has already been shown in separate experiments by British researchers to temporarily stun the part of the brain which controls speech, rendering volunteers unable to utter familiar words. Using a paddle placed on the head and focusing the TMS on an area of the brain at the back of the left frontal lobe, researchers found they could halt speech in mid flow. The volunteers reported having the words "right there" in their heads but were unable to make them "come out".
For the latest study, Maria Costelli and colleagues applied repetitive TMS – a rapid succession of magnetic pulses – to the prefrontal lobes of the Alzheimer's patients for 25 minutes at a time.
Five patients received daily doses five days a week for four weeks and the other 5 received a placebo treatment for two weeks followed by two weeks of TMS. The researchers found that the participants who’d received a full course of TMS had significantly higher scores on comprehension of what was said to them – up from 66 per cent to 77 per cent. The improvement was still evident eight weeks after treatment.
The authors say the technique did not affect other language abilities or other cognitive functions, including memory, which suggests that it is "specific to the language domain of the brain when applied to the prefrontal lobes".