What is tDCS?
Trans-Cranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a type of Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation (NIBS) therapy that works by using a small electric current to gently stimulate the brain. During treatment, people sit comfortably whilst small sponge electrodes are positioned over targeted areas of the brain. The electrodes are held in place using soft velcro straps and deliver a low-intensity direct electric current to the underlying brain. Treatment is safe and does not hurt, with most people simply feeling a mild “tingling” or “itching” sensation during the session. People usually perform specific activities or exercises during and after each treatment.
There is considerable research showing that tDCS can be an effective treatment for addiction and cravings, depression and fibromyalgia. Additional studies indicate that it may also be helpful in the treatment and management of conditions such as acquired brain injury, chronic pain, cognitive enhancement, fatigue, headaches, movements disorders (eg. Parkinson’s), stroke and tinnitus however there is less published research about this.
tDCS uses a weak direct electric current to activate neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change) by altering the “resting membrane potential” or “excitability” of braincells.
Research shows that the application of the positive electrode (known as the anode) increases the excitability of braincells by up to 40%, whilst the application of the negative electrode (known as the cathode) reduces brain excitability. Studies also show that the effects of tDCS are not limited to the area of the brain directly under the electrodes, but that it also changes the activity of large brain networks and the levels of neurotransmitters required for normal brain function.
One of the most important aspects of tDCS is that the changes in brain activity persist for some time after the end of the treatment session. This creates an important “window of opportunity” after treatment during which the brain is more “plastic” and more likely to change. At The Perth Brain Centre we provide very specific targeted exercises to help maximise the benefits of therapy.
Research shows that tDCS is a safe treatment, including specifically for potentially vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, people with mood disorders, epilepsy, stroke and implants. Side-effects from tDCS are rare, but may include fatigue, headache or nausea. In our experience the vast majority of people will feel nothing unpleasant during or after tDCS, although if someone does experience a mild reaction these effects are usually short-lived and typically reduce after a few sessions.
It is the excellent safety profile and very low risk-to-benefit ratio that makes tDCS an appealing treatment for many people.
tDCS should not be confused with ECT or “shock therapy” which uses a much larger electric current applied to the whole brain. Over 20 years of research, and over 1000 peer-reviewed studies, has shown that tDCS is a very safe treatment, suitable for both children and adults.