According to a recent research, nerve stimulation can significantly improve the quality of life in depressed patients. The study, led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, suggests that it can happen even when their depression symptoms don't completely subside. "When evaluating patients with treatment-resistant depression, we need to focus more on their overall well-being," said principal investigator Charles R. Conway. "A lot of patients are on as many as three, four or five antidepressant medications, and they are just barely getting by. But when you add a vagus nerve stimulator, it really can make a big difference in people's everyday lives." The researchers compared patients who received vagus nerve stimulation with others who received what the study referred to as treatment as usual, which could include antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy or some combination. "On about 10 of the 14 measures, those with vagus nerve stimulators did better," Conway said. "For a person to be considered to have responded to a depression therapy, he or she needs to experience a 50 percent decline in his or her standard depressions core. But we noticed, anecdotally, that some patients with stimulators reported they were feeling much better even though their scores were only dropping 34 to 40 percent." A vagus nerve stimulator is surgically implanted under the skin in the neck or chest. In the new study, patients with stimulators had significant gains in quality-of-life measures such as mood, ability to work, social relationships, family relationships and leisure activities, compared with those who received only treatment as usual. Conway believes an improved ability to concentrate may be key to the benefits some patients get from stimulation. "It improves alertness, and that can reduce anxiety," he said. "And when a person feels more alert and more energetic and has a better capacity to carry out a daily routine, anxiety and depression levels decline." The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.