'Nothing short of a miracle': Depression treatment has success when medication doesn't

Jim Broulette gets transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy at the Seattle Neuropsychiatric Treatment Center.

SEATTLE--About a third of people with major depression have trouble finding a treatment that works. More patients are discovering an option that doesn't involve any drugs.

Jim Broulette is happily married and dotes on his grandchildren. But the outgoing family man also suffers from depression.

"Just paralyzing, dark depression," Broulette said. "Just this dark, veil or cloud or wall that caused me to isolate, retreat."

Jim has battled depression and anxiety for half his life, and at times, he's managed well with medication. But his most recent bout didn't respond to drug treatment. Doctors at the Seattle Neuropsychiatric Treatment Center, which is affiliated with Swedish Medical Center, suggested transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS.

"With TMS we use an electromagnetic coil that's roughly the strength of an MRI machine to stimulate or kind of wake up an area of the brain that's underactive in depression," explained Dr. Suzanne Kerns. "Once a patient has tried two or three medications, chances of responding to a third or fourth become 15%. So it's quite a remarkable treatment for some people."

The Food and Drug Administration approved TMS in 2008, and it's just now becoming more widely available. There is the standard coil version as well as an option that uses a helmet to deliver the electromagnetic pulses deeper into the cortex.

Chris Bath brought her 95-year old mother in, when medication made her ill. Not only is her mood better, there have been other positive changes.

"It's made quite a difference in her memory for one thing," Bath said. "I've noticed quite a difference there."

Patients need treatment five times a week for about a month. Doctors say TMS helps about 60% of patients who try it, with results lasting up to a year.

Broulette says it gave him his life back. "My self, my love of people, interaction was restored," he said. "It is nothing short of a miracle."

Not all insurance carriers cover TMS, and in our area, Medicare doesn't cover it. Bath is appealing to Medicare and her mother's secondary insurance. But even out of pocket, she's glad they found the treatment. "To me it's worth it because it's made a difference in her life, quite a bit," Bath said.

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