Would the world be excited to hear about a treatment that helps people with Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease and depression... and one that doesnt involve either surgery or medication? I think the answer is yes. This is a therapy Ive written about before, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and now theres new research suggesting that its benefits extend further yet. I wrote about TMS last year (see Daily Health News, "High-Tech Depression Treatments," March 10, 2009) when the FDA approved the therapy for patients with severe, intractable depression. Its name describes it quite well. Specially designed machinery delivers a series of magnetic pulses aimed at a particular region in the brain. (For patients with depression, thats the prefrontal cortex -- the part of the brain responsible for mood regulation.) More than half of the patients with previously treatment-resistant depression experienced a 50% improvement after six weeks of TMS, and 33% experienced full remission of symptoms. TMS for Neurological Diseases Now Italian research published in Britain s Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry reports that TMS helped boost memory in patients with Alzheimers. Other research has found that TMS improved motor symptoms in people with Parkinsons disease. I contacted Irving Reti, MBBS (thats the Australian equivalent of an MD), associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the brain-stimulation program at Johns Hopkins Hospital , who told me that he, too, is encouraged by this research. Dr. Reti stressed, however, that using TMS to treat patients with Alzheimers, Parkinsons and other neurological disorders is still in the investigative stage. Right now, theres just one kind of FDA-approved machine made by one manufacturer (Neuronetics, www.Neuronetics.com), with technology specifically designed to treat patients with depression. It may be that effective TMS treatment for other neurological issues would require adjusting the technology or even designing some specialized equipment -- there are many as yet unanswered questions. Jump-Starting the Brain TMS treatment takes about 40 minutes per session, five days a week for about six weeks -- some patients get additional follow-up treatments afterward on an as-needed basis. Having a treatment is sort of like having an MRI while seated in a recliner. A magnetic coil positioned over your head delivers a series of rapid-fire magnetic pulses. Its loud, so patients wear earplugs. TMS affects the nerves in the scalp, so some patients experience discomfort there, including feelings of twitching or tingling -- but these symptoms typically fade after the first week. Some patients experience a headache after treatment -- for relief, they can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. Dr. Reti explained that the magnetic signals create improvement by exciting underperforming neurons in the appropriate region of the brain, somewhat like giving them a jump-start. These signals dont penetrate all that deeply, just a centimeter or two, but Dr. Reti said that they are nonetheless very effective. Interestingly, however, he said that "functional imaging studies of the brain with people who have had the treatment clearly show effects in deeper regions, so there are secondary effects as well." There are some safety considerations. TMS carries a remote risk for seizures, and it should be used with great caution for people with pacemakers, metal implants and implanted or wearable cardioverter defibrillators. At present, a six-week course of TMS treatment costs around $12,000, and insurers are covering it for depression only on a case-by-case basis. Dr. Reti said that research will be required to establish whether it is a viable therapy for other neurological illnesses, and clinical trails are now underway. If youd like to learn more about the treatments, or if you suffer from treatment-resistant depression and are interested in exploring TMS, you can find clinics offering the FDA-approved treatment by visiting the manufacturers Web site at www.Neurostartms.com. Source(s): Irving Reti, MBBS, associate professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and director, Brain Stimulation Program, Johns Hopkins University , Baltimore.