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The woman is a patient of Dr. Andres Lozano, a neurosurgeon who is among a growing number of researchers studying the potential of deep brain stimulation to treat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. If the approach pans out, it could provide options for patients with fading cognition and retrieve vanished memories.

Right now, deep brain stimulation is used primarily to treat Parkinson’s disease and tremor, for which it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration. DBS involves delivering electrical impulses to specific areas of the brain through implanted electrodes. The technique is also approved for obsessive-compulsive disorder and is being looked at for a number of other brain disorders, including depression, chronic pain and, as in Lozano’s work, dementia.

In 2008, Lozano’s group published a study in which an obese patient was treated with deep brain stimulation of the hypothalamus. Though no bigger than a pea, the hypothalamus is a crucial bit of brain involved in appetite regulation and other bodily essentials such as temperature control, sleep and circadian rhythms. It seemed like a reasonable target in trying to suppress excessive hunger. To the researcher’s surprise, following stimulation the patient reported a sensation of deja vu. He also perceived feeling 20 years younger and recalled a memory of being in a park with friends, including an old girlfriend. With increasing voltages, his memories became more vivid, including remembering their clothes.

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Image: By Hellerhoff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13785677

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