A new non-pharmacological intervention study for mild cognitive impairment

Neuromodulation is an exciting new tool that may improve thinking (i.e., memory) abilities in those with different types of dementia. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a specific type of neuromodulation that uses weak electric currents to alter activity within a particular brain region or network. tDCS has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated across thousands of sessions with participants of all ages. Initial studies suggest that tDCS may improve cognitive functioning in individuals diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, very little is known about the most effective ‘dose’ of tDCS so the primary goal of this study is to determine “how much” tDCS is needed for the best possible treatment of MCI.

To answer this question, Dr. Benjamin Hampstead created the Stimulation to Undermine Dementia (STUD) study. In this study, patients with MCI will be randomized to receive five consecutive daily sessions of high-definition (HD) tDCS at different dosages. Stimulation will be focused over the side of the head in order to target brain regions that are affected early in the course of Alzheimer’s disease. The effect of HD-tDCS on thinking abilities will be measured daily, and changes in how the brain is “communicating” will be assessed by comparing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after the five-day treatment. Patients and their family members will rate their perceived cognitive and functional abilities before and after daily treatments. Each participant will also be asked to complete positron emission tomography (PET) scans so that we can measure if, and how much, Alzheimer’s disease pathology is in the brain.

Through this research, we will address three important questions: (1) Is HD-tDCS well tolerated in this study, as it has been in all previous studies? (2) What dose of HD-tDCS results in the biggest improvements in brain and cognitive functioning? and (3) Does the amount of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain affect the response to tDCS? By answering these questions, our goal is to identify specific treatment parameters so that we can provide an “ideal” treatment for each individual with Alzheimer’s disease.

The STUD study is looking for adults with mild cognitive impairment over the age of 55. If you are interested in participating, please contact Rachael Snyder at rlsnyder@med.umich.edu or 734-936-7360. For a full list of our research studies, please visit the Research tab.