AUSTIN -- It's estimated than nearly 20 million adult Americans are living with major depression. Until now doctors have relied almost exclusively on medication to combat depression. At times that can be either ineffective or worse -- have negative side effects. Now there's a device that claims to allow doctors to target the exact areas of the brain affected by depression.
For more than half of her life, 77-year-old Bonnie Smith has dealt with a serious illness.
"Just a free-floating depression and a free-floating anxiety," she said.
Smith says she's seen doctor after doctor and taken numerous anti-depressants, but she hasn't been happy with the medications' results nor the side effects.
"I would do okay for months and even years, and it would creep back in again," said Smith.
That's when Smith found psychiatrist Marilyn Vache and the Neurostar TMS device.
"We can actually map the brain with this machine," said Vache. "So we know what areas we are affecting."
TMS stands for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Vache is able to position the device over the patient's head to trigger a slight thumb twitch.
"We know from there we have to move that coil 5½ centimeters forward towards the forehead," said Vache.
Vache says that's the area studies have shown where the depression symptoms are generated. The treatment coil then sends a pulsed magnetic field -- about the same as that used in a MRI -- a couple of centimeters into the brain.
"When that magnetic field hits the wet tissue of the brain it turns into a tiny, tiny current that targets only the areas affected by depression," said Vache. "That means there are no side effects. It doesn't go to any other part of the brain, so there's no memory loss. There's no fogginess."
Vache says most patients require 20 to 30 half-hour treatments.
"Oh absolutely I was skeptical," said Smith. "But I was so miserable I was willing to try it."
Smith says she saw immediate improvement after four treatments. She has undergone 12 in total.
"At the end of the 12th session I was Bonnie again," she said.
Vache is one of three clinicians here in Austin to offer the Neurostar TMS treatment. She says costs are expensive and they can vary clinic to clinic. She says costs range from about $300 - $500 a treatment. Vache says the good news is that more insurance companies are starting to pay for a portion of the cost.