Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
VA using magnetic stimulation to treat depression
Spend any amount of time at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and you'll get to know Navy Veteran Percy Jones. Jones, now employed as a housekeeper at the hospital, goes about his daily duties sporting a bright, wide smile and interacts joyfully with staff and patients while making his rounds. But his disposition wasn't always so sunny.
"At one time, I was having an awful lot of problems isolating myself," Jones remembers. "I got angry easily and I was always very nervous. I couldn't sleep. I started drinking too much. It got to the point where I was suicidal. I just didn't want to live."
Fortunately, Jones heard about a national research study being conducted at the Charleston VA, which utilized a non-invasive technique called trans-cranial magnetic stimulation to treat depression among Veterans. Jones signed up straightaway and soon after began receiving treatments - one 30-minute session, five days per week, for six straight weeks. Jones would come in during his lunch break and relax in a chair while researchers used a magnet to stimulate his prefontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and mood regulation. The results were almost immediate.
"In the first week and a half I could feel a difference," Jones said. "I started realizing that I was myself again."
And many Veterans in the study have had similar experiences. According to Dr. Mark George, principle investigator for the three-year study, so far about 60 percent of the patients in the trial have reached a state of remission with their depression.
"We stimulate this certain part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, and if we do that for several weeks, we can get people un-depressed," George explains.
Through the TMS treatment, which George himself invented in the 1990s, the researcher hopes to help Veterans struggling with crippling depression and suicidal thoughts once again lead happy and productive lives.
"You see people, like Percy, who get their lives back through this treatment," George said. "I have to pinch myself. It's a dream."
Charleston is one of eight medical centers in the country currently testing the effectiveness of TMS in the treatment of depression. Researchers say the study will end in spring of 2016 and more Veteran participants are needed. Jones regularly recommends the treatment to other Veterans he knows that are experiencing similar symptoms and he credits TMS for his new outlook.
"It was just like a door opening," Jones said, beaming. "I started smiling more and sleeping again. I would say the treatment suppressed my depression and anxiety enough for me to be me."