Magnetic attraction: Linden Oaks to launch magnet therapy program

There is new hope in Naperville for people who have long struggled with mental illness and found no relief in traditional therapies and medications. It uses magnets.

Linden Oaks, the behavioral health arm of Edward Hospital, is poised to launch a program that will treat people with major depression through its new Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Center. The technology involved, in use since the 1980s, utilizes intense magnetic pulses to stimulate the nerve cells located in the portion of the brain where mood is controlled.

The technique is designed for people who have tried antidepressants, counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, and found the treatments ineffective — an estimated one-third of those who suffer from chronic depression.

“It’s a relatively treatment-resistant group of patients,” said Dr. Philip C. Janicak, a psychiatrist who for the past 17 years has specialized in the magnetic method and is directing the new Linden Oaks program.

Most recently director of the TMS Center at Rush University Medical Center and medical director of the Psychiatric Clinical Research Center and a psychiatry professor, Janicak said he had planned to retire when the request came through for him to work part-time consulting for Linden Oaks.

The treatment targets a patient population similar to those who are referred for electroconvulsive therapy, formerly called electroshock therapy, but there are several key differences. Rather than working with induced seizures that can cause memory impairments, as is done in ECT, the TMS treatments use magnetic fields with intensity comparable to that found in an MRI. Because it is far less invasive, there is lower risk of complications. The procedure also is less time consuming and, at $10,000 to $12,000, considerably less expensive than ECT, which can cost as much as $20,000.

“This treatment is extremely benign,” Janicak said, adding that psychotherapy is the only treatment that is less invasive.

A literature review he coauthored that was published this year in the trade journal Psychiatric Annals concluded that the three dozen studies done on the method so far suggest it shows long-term promise.

“In preliminary trials, TMS’ durability of effect after acute response appears substantive and is associated with improvement in function and quality of life,” Janicak wrote with his coauthor, psychiatrist and Brown University researcher Dr. Linda Carpenter.

While they initially were reluctant to pay for it, insurers increasingly are adding coverage for TMS, now offered through some 850 centers nationwide, to their health insurance plans. Janicak said two years ago, about 15 million insured Americans had coverage for the treatment, and today the number is 120 million. It has yet to be decided whether the Linden Oaks program will accept insurance, he said.

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