Traverse City Record-Eagle

Life

March 9, 2013

New magnetic treatment for depression

TRAVERSE CITY — For some people, depression has no good reason to arrive, and less reason to linger.

“For eight or nine years, I’ve been walking around with my head in my shoe, and I don’t know why it was there to begin with,” said Tom, an area businessman.

Tom, 57, said the depression caught him off guard because, by all accounts, his life is perfect. He loves his “congenitally cheerful” wife, raves about their bright 16-year-old daughter and earns a good income.

Tom, who didn’t want his last name used, talked recently about his inexplicable depression in the office of Luis Oxholm. The Traverse City psychiatrist is one of two in town to use transcranial magnetic simulation — the strange-sounding therapy that helped Tom finally beat the depression back.

“At the moment, my depression is pretty much completely in remission,” Tom said. “I am no longer consumed by how bad I feel.”

Approved by the FDA in 2008, TMS is based on the 19th century research of Michael Faraday, who found that a moving magnetic coil creates an electric field. The Neurostar machine generates magnetic pulses to “wake up” underactive neurons in the brain that release mood-affecting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, said psychiatrist Marilyn “Lyn” Conlon.

Conlon was the first in the area to use TMS in what she terms a “leap of faith.” She bought the $87,000 TMS machine in October of 2011 when the treatment was still coded as experimental. She has no doubts now. Of the 36 people she’s treated, 84 percent are in remission and an additional 12 percent reported some positive response.

“Add it up,” she said. “That beats what the literature says.”

Oxholm said only two of his 15 patients have not responded to TMS. Both psychiatrists said that their toughest patients are those with the deepest, most resistant depression.

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