Neuroscientists reveal the potential of transcranial direct current stimulation
Difficulties in finding words may be harmless, but if more severe, also an early-warning sign and indicator of incipient dementia. Neuroscientists at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have demonstrated that transcranial direct current stimulation can improve cognitive deficits in patients with mild cognitive impairment. The results of the study have been published in the scientific journal Alzheimer's & Dementia*.
Due to the aging of the population, age-associated diseases like Alzheimer's disease or its precursors will increase dramatically. The transitional stages between normal ageing and dementia, for example a condition called mild cognitive impairment, have thus become an important subject of research. To date, pharmacological treatments have shown little effect to improve cognition, let alone tackle the underlying disease process. However, these transitional stages in theory offer the opportunity to treat the disease process at a very early stage.
Weak electrical currents applied to the skull can activate the underlying regions of the brain: in healthy people and in patients after stroke, such stimulation protocols improve both motor and cognitive functions. Age-related deficits can also be influenced in this way. Researchers from the group of Prof. Dr. Agnes Flöel of the Department of Neurology of the Charité have now shown that transcranial direct current stimulation can enhance the ability to find words in patients with mild cognitive impairment. In parallel, the researchers were able to demonstrate that task-related activation and connectivity between memory-related brain areas, were modulated and more closely resembled those seen in healthy subjects.
The scientists point out that repeated stimulation of the brain can delay the progression of dementia: "Both healthy people and those already suffering from such a disease react to direct current treatment in similar ways. This indicates the potential to improve learning and memory formation of patients with mild cognitive impairment", explains Agnes Flöel. It may even be possible to permanently improve the performance of the brain through repeated treatments in combination with cognitive training. It is this potential that researches are currently examining in an ongoing study. The goal is to achieve a long-term improvement in activities of daily living, such as the ability to find one's way around a new city. In addition, home-based training and stimulation procedures are planned for the future.
*Marcus Meinzer, Robert Lindenberg, Mai Thy Phan, Lena Ulm, Carina Volk, Agnes Flöel: Transcranial direct current stimulation in mild cognitive impairment: Behavioral effects and neural mechanisms, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 20. Nov. 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.07.159.
Prof. Dr. Agnes Flöel
Department of Neurology
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 560 284
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