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Electrical Stimulation Might Help Multiple Sclerosis Patients Fight Cognitive Effects

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There may be good news for patients struggling with some of the cognitive effects that come with multiple sclerosis.

A new study suggests there's a way to counteract those effects. As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports, it's a way to electrically stimulate the brain from the comfort of home.

MS is a degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord that strikes women two or three times more often than men. For many patients, it's the slowed thinking and information processing that is the hardest to deal with.

Could electricity be a solution?

It looks a little like something out of a science fiction movie, but Larry Irving says the electrodes on his head actually help to counteract some of the more troubling symptoms of his MS.

"Becoming forgetful. Thinking got slower. As far as me trying to get the words out, that became difficult," Irving told Gomez.

While existing medications for MS are designed to reduce the number and severity of neurologic attacks, they do little for the cognitive effects.

That's where the electrical stimulation comes into play.

"We're interested in for instance improving cognitive function, so we target broadly the frontal regions of the brain," Dr. Leigh Charvet, of the NYU Langone Medical Center, said.

Dr. Charvet and her colleagues have developed the mild electrical stimulation as a way to amplify the effects of brain training computer exercises.

The key is that the brain training has to be repetitive to be effective. So it's something Irving does at home while an NYU technician monitors the session from the MS center.

A recently published study compared a group of MS patients who did brain games alone with those who used electrical stimulation along with the games.

"Speed of processing, complex attention, computer-based measures -- that's where we really saw the difference in the groups," Charvet said.

Irving worked in finance before his diagnosis, and electrical stimulation restored his love of numbers.

"I could remember numbers again, I could remember things at a quicker speed," he said.

According to Gomez, it's use it or lose it, meaning you have to keep doing the brain games and stimulation to maintain the benefits.

Irving was a part of the study and said he's noticed that he's slowed down again since it ended.

Charvet is now studying whether Parkinson's patients might also benefit from electrical stimulation.

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