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Cognitive Symptoms of MS Could be Reduced by Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation


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The NYU researchers reported that MS patients who wore at tDCS headset while completing cognitive training computer games saw greater improvements in cognitive measures such as information processing, compared to the computer game alone.

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February 23, 2017 | by Sarah Hand, M.Sc.

According to researchers at NYU Langone's Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center, cognitive abilities of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) could be improved by pairing training with an approach known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The study – which was published in the journal, Neuromodulation: Technology at the Neural Interface – could offer a more effective method of cognitive training, which patients can perform at home.

The tDCS technology uses electrodes placed on the scalp to pass a small direct current through the brain. The idea is that this current can encourage neurons to fire more rapidly, thereby improving learning ability during brain training and rehabilitation.

The NYU researchers reported that MS patients who wore at tDCS headset while completing cognitive training computer games saw greater improvements in cognitive measures such as information processing, compared to the computer game alone. As MS progressively worsens, patients may find it challenging to visit a clinic for cognitive training, making it possible that this home based program could significantly improve patients’ quality of life.

“Our research adds evidence that tDCS, while done remotely under a supervised treatment protocol, may provide an exciting new treatment option for patients with multiple sclerosis who cannot get relief for some of their cognitive symptoms,” said Dr. Leigh E. Charvet, associate professor of neurology and director of research at NYU Langone's Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center. “Many MS medications are aimed at preventing disease flares but those drugs do not help with daily symptom management, especially cognitive problems. We hope tDCS will fill this crucial gap and help improve quality of life for people with MS.”

In all, 25 patients with MS were given a tDCS headset which was designed to target the brain’s dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex; this region has been implicated in cognitive function, along with depression and fatigue. Each tDCS session was guided by a researcher through online video conferencing, who would provide the participant with a code used to control dosing of the tDCS.

Each participant completed 10 sessions of tDCS paired with cognitive training video games. The results were then compared to that collected from 20 patients who only played the brain training games during their sessions.

Computer-based measures of attention and response time showed that patients who underwent tDCS training showed cumulative cognitive benefits, compared to those who played the games alone. While these results are promising, Charvet encourages patients to be cautious when it comes to unproven consumer tDCS devices as they often lack information about dosing frequency.

MS is an autoimmune disease in which the protective myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells is progressively broken down. An estimated 2.3 million people are affected by MS worldwide, and may experience a number of symptoms ranging from fatigue and lack of coordination, to cognitive impairment and mood changes.

Keywords: Multiple Sclerosis, Cognitive Ability, Rehabilitation


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