Offering hope for depression
In 2004, Cecelia Hammond retired from the Library of Congress as assistant to the chief of overseas operations, marking a 22-year career that began when she joined the federal government as a payroll clerk. After retirement, she became a full-time caregiver for her elderly mother, who Hammond said was “my whole life.” When her mother died at age 93, things began to go terribly wrong.
Burdened by grief, Hammond said her “mind wasn’t working,” and it wasn’t long before she lost her house.
“Next thing I know I’m homeless,” she said. “I had to get rid of all but one of my pets. I went from my 3,000 square foot home to a tiny apartment. No matter where I turned, nothing was going right. Before I knew it, I was in really bad shape.”
Hammond began treatment for depression, but after a half dozen years of therapy, her medication suddenly stopped being effective.
“I began spiraling further and further downward, and I was referred for TMS,” said Hammond. “The therapy worked miracles, and today, I feel wonderful.”
Effective treatment for depression
TMS — Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation — is a noninvasive, outpatient-based form of brain stimulation approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008. TMS is recommended for patients suffering from depression who have not achieved satisfactory improvement from antidepressant treatment.
Seventy-three patients in their 20s to late 70s have received TMS at Centra Piedmont Psychiatric Center since it was first offered in February 2014 “with a notable improvement in depressive symptoms,” said Michael Judd, MD, boardcertified psychiatrist and medical director. Patients have traveled from as far away as Pearisburg, Cave Spring, Lexington, Bassett and Appomattox for the treatment.
“More than 1.3 million TMS sessions have been administered worldwide,” noted Judd. “Research not connected to TMS has shown that people who suffer from depression have an underactive left frontal cortex. TMS stimulates that region of the brain with targeted electromagnetic pulsations. Theoretically, these pulses stimulate metabolism and increase the brain’s neurotransmitters, thereby helping to alleviate depression.”
According to Judd, TMS has resulted in a 68 percent response rate (reduction in depressive symptoms) in his patients and a 45 percent remission rate (returning to a usual level of function in absence of depression).
Judd noted that in order to meet the criteria for TMS, patients must have a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, be 18 years of age or older and have failed at least one trial with an antidepressant of adequate dose and duration.
He pointed out that TMS is not meant to take the place of medication or therapy. “It is an additional modality to treat depression,” he said.
The outpatient procedure begins with a one or two hour initial mapping of the area to be stimulated. Subsequent treatments are 35 minutes, five days a week for four to six weeks. Judd added that TMS is a safe procedure with minimal to no side effects. The most common side effect of TMS is a mild headache, which is usually limited to the first few days of treatment.
Hammond began her TMS therapy last fall, and “after five or six weeks, it started working, and I began to feel better,” she said.
A common theme among TMS recipients is the feeling that they have their lives back, said Judd. “Many patients want to be positive and forward-looking. With depression, they become so stuck they can’t see their way out. Approximately 50 percent of people struggling with depression do not respond to medication or therapy.
“After TMS, they are enjoying life again,” he said. “A large part of what we can offer with TMS is hope. And once people begin to feel better, we encourage them to follow a healthy lifestyle through exercise, proper nutrition and socialization,” said Judd.
Hammond has moved to a small house now, and she considers herself fortunate to get two of her cats back. In addition to bringing them home to be with her teacup Chihuahua, another Chihuahua and a Schitzu have joined her and her son in their new home.
“I’m so appreciative of having this therapy,” she said. “I can’t say I feel like my old self, because I don’t remember what that felt like. It’s been too long since I felt this good.”