Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive type of dementia, that causes memory, thinking and behavior issues. Its symptoms develop slowly and aggravate over time, eventually leading to an inability to carry out the simplest tasks.
Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia affects around 44 million people worldwide.
This condition is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S, accounting for more deaths than breast and prostate cancer combined. Recent estimates even suggest that it may rank third in the case of older people, behind heart disease and cancer.
There are not medicaments that can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, even though some drugs control its symptoms.
Neuroscientists led by MIT have conducted research by imitating the healthy rhythmic patterns—or brain waves—that oscillate at different frequencies. Gamma brain waves operate at about 30 to 100 Hz and are linked to higher-order cognitive functions, and decrease in the case of Alzheimer’s.
In a previous study, scientists found that flashing light 40 times a second into the eyes of mice treated this condition, so they now added a sound of a similar frequency.
The findings were impressive- They found that strobe lights and a low pitched buzz can be used to recreate brain waves lost due to the condition.
The number of amyloid plaques in the brains of engineered to display Alzheimer’s-like behavior was, in turn, drastically reduced, and they were cleared in large portions of the brain, even in areas associated with cognitive functions like learning and memory.
Li-Huei Tsai, one of the researchers from MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said:
“When we combine visual and auditory stimulation for a week, we see the engagement of the prefrontal cortex and a very dramatic reduction of amyloid.”
Yet, researchers found that the non-invasive treatment has to be received continuously, as many of the positive effects faded when they made a week break.
Tsui used a frequency ranging around 40 Hertz, which is just enough for humans to hear, but at the same time, it helped to clear the nearby hippocampus, the brain area associated with memory.
Mice treated in this way performed better in various cognitive tasks post-treatment.
Researchers maintain that this therapy led to overall neuroprotective effects, even in the later stages of neurodegeneration.
Shannon Macauley, a neuroscientist at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who was not involved in the research, stated:
“It’s a very provocative idea. It’s noninvasive and easy and low cost, potentially, so if it were to come to fruition in humans—that’s fabulous.”
Nancy Kopell, a professor of mathematics and statistics at Boston University, said:
“Though there are important differences among species, there is reason to be optimistic that these methods can provide useful interventions for humans.”
This brings hope to Alzheimer’s patients, as it is a possible inexpensive and drug-free wat to treat this common condition.
So far, early testing for safety has found that the therapy seems to have no clear adverse effects.
Yet, further research is needed, since the treatment has not been clinically tested on humans, and brain waves are known to work differently in humans and mice.