Can brain stimulation improve daily activities and arm function?

May 29, 2018

If you’ve been following Stokemark, you’ve come across Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation or tDCS. This is a form of noninvasive brain stimulation that makes use of low levels of constant current delivered directly into targeted areas of the brain. This technique has been found useful in neurological conditions like stroke.

Most effective type of tDCS

Although studies have shown that tDCS can play a significant role in improving a stroke survivor’s ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), it’s still unclear as to what type of tDCS is the most effective. To find out, researchers from Germany conducted a systematic review of randomized trials that involved the three different types of tDCS – anodal, cathodal, and dual. Anodal tDCS increases the neuronal excitability whereas cathodal tDCS decreases the excitability. Dual tDCS combines both methods.

The review involved 12 studies and 284 participants. They looked into each type’s effectiveness in improving ADLs and upper limb function. They also looked into the difference in safety between the tDCS types.

After careful evaluation, they found out that it’s the cathodal tDCS that produces the most significant effect in performing ADLs. However, they did not find evidence for tDCS in improving arm function. While looking at safety, they found no difference between the three types.

Watch this video to see how researchers apply and explain tDCS to a patient.

What this means to you

You can find tDCS devices online. There are consumer and medical/research grade devices. The consumer tDCS device is not appropriate for treating certain conditions. Hence, they are generally cheaper (costs between $80-$500) than the medical/research grade (costs between $300-$10,000).

Since tDCS is new, more research is needed before it can be part of routine clinical care. Most insurance companies do not cover tDCS therapy. So, check with your provider before starting this type of treatment.

The lead author of the study is Bernhard Elsner of the Department of Public Health, Dresden Medical School, Technical University Dresden, Germany.

What you can do with this information

Editorial note:

Stimulating the brain can help improve daily activities, but might not help directly with improving arm function.

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