BusinessWeek (May 4, 2010): Surgery for Treatable Dementia Might Also Help in Alzheimer's

Publication Date: 
Tue, 05/04/2010

Some people with Alzheimer's disease may be helped by a brain shunt normally used to treat another, less common neurological condition, new research suggests.

The other condition, normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the ventricles, or cavities, deep within the brain. The reasons for the build-up of fluid are unknown, but it tends to occur in older people, said study author Dr. Sebastian Koga, a senior resident and surgeon in the department of neurosurgery at University of Virginia Health Science Center.

When diagnosing NPH, doctors look for three specific symptoms:  difficulty walking (gait disturbances), urinary incontinence and dementia, or memory loss. The condition can often be slowed or relieved through a surgical procedure in which a shunt is implanted in the brain to drain fluid into the abdominal cavity, where it's harmlessly reabsorted, Koga said.

In the study, Koga and his colleagues took brain biopsies from 50 patients who had been diagnosed with NPH and who had shunt surgery.

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