Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

Up to two-thirds of peo­ple suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion don’t re­spond to med­i­ca­tion. Now, researchers at Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity have found that im­plant­ing a de­vice that sends mild elec­tri­cal sig­nals to the brain from the va­gus nerve – a nerve that stretches from the brain to the chest – can im­prove their qual­ity of life.

The study in­volved nearly 600 pa­tients with de­pres­sion, whose symp­toms could not be al­le­vi­ated by four or more an­tide­pres­sants. The team im­planted 328 of these with va­gus nerve stim­u­la­tors, while 271 con­tin­ued with other treat­ments. They found that those with the stim­u­la­tors im­proved markedly in 10 out of 14 qual­ity of life mea­sures in­clud­ing phys­i­cal health, fam­ily re­la­tion­ships and abil­ity to work.

“When eval­u­at­ing pa­tients with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion, we need to fo­cus more on their over­all well­be­ing,” said psy­chi­a­trist Prof Charles R Con­way, who led the re­search. “A lot of pa­tients are on as many as three, four or five an­tide­pres­sant med­i­ca­tions, and they’re just barely get­ting by. But when you add a va­gus nerve stim­u­la­tor, it re­ally can make a big dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives.”

Study par­tic­i­pant Charles Dono­van had been hos­pi­talised for de­pres­sion sev­eral times. “Slowly but surely, my mood bright­ened. I went from be­ing ba­si­cally cata­tonic to feel­ing lit­tle or no de­pres­sion,” he said. “Be­fore the stim­u­la­tor, I didn’t want to leave the house, I couldn’t con­cen­trate to sit and watch a movie. But after I got the stim­u­la­tor, I could do things like read a book or watch a TV show. Those things im­proved my qual­ity of life.”

This de­vice stim­u­lates the va­gus nerve with a tiny elec­tric cur­rent. It can help peo­ple whose de­pres­sion is re­sis­tant to med­i­ca­tion, boost­ing pow­ers of con­cen­tra­tion enough for them to lead a nor­mal life

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