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Worlds First Dementia Surgery Improves Mental Function

Alzheimer's brain

A new study shows that a surgery improves mental function in people who suffer from dementia as a result of hydrocephalus.

This study, published in the American Journal of Neurosurgery, was the first in the world to use a placebo controlled design to prove the effects of dementia surgery on mental function in hydrocephalus patients.

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the open cavities in the brain called ventricles. This fluid build up causes damaging pressure on the brain tissue. In older adults this condition can results in changes in mental function as well as physical functions such as walking.

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Researchers at the University of Gothenburg and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden performed a brain operation on 14 patients suffering from dementia secondary to hydrocephalus. Half of the group was given a functioning brain shunt, which diverts excess fluids built up in the brain's ventricles to the stomach. The other half of the group was given a non-functional shut. This type of placebo operation is highly unusual but provides the highest quality of reliable evidence that there is.

The results of the study revealed that the group who received the functioning shunt had “improved tangibly” their mental functions and ability to walk. Furthermore, half of the patients who received this shut were given one which immediately opened and the other half one that opened in three months. The improvements in patient functioning were consistent to the timing of the shunt's opening. This gave further proof that the shunt operation was a success in dementia patients.

Another study published in May of 2010 by University of Virginia Health Science Center also identified the link between the shut procedure and dementia. In analyzing brain biopsies of patients who had had shut procedures for hydrocephalus they discovered that there was strong correlation with dementia. The researchers concluded that shunting could potentially help dementia patients.

This Swedish study, through it's unique and solid design, is the first to provide concrete evidence that surgery could be the future treatment for patients who suffer dementia as a result of hydrocephalus.

Image source: Wikimedia