Brain stimulation trial paves way for at-home depression treatment
Published: 18 April, 2019
Patients with depression who self-administered a brain stimulation treatment at home have achieved the same clinical benefits as those in treatment centres, a new pilot trial has found.
The findings open the way for improved treatment outcomes for rural and remote Australians with depression, who currently lack access to specialist brain stimulation therapies in major city centres.
Published in the Journal of Affective Disorders and conducted by the UNSW School of Psychiatry based at the Black Dog Institute, the home trial into Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) showed that in a sample of 34 people with depression, mood significantly improved on average one month after receiving 4 weeks of treatment.
tDCS is a non-invasive, painless, and mild form of brain stimulation that can have an antidepressant effect when applied over the front parts of the brain.
“The potential treatment benefits of home administered tDCS for those in rural and remote areas is huge,” said UNSW School of Psychiatry’s Professor Colleen Loo, a psychiatrist and clinical academic who leads a research and clinical centre providing novel brain stimulation treatments, based at the Black Dog Institute.
“While the incidence of mental illness is on par for rural and remote Australians and those in metropolitan areas – at around 20 percent of the population – suicide and self-harm rates are higher for people living in remote regions. Cost and geographic barriers to treatment can prevent those at risk from seeking the help they need.
“Our study shows that home administered tDCS results were comparable to those achieved in a treatment centre setting, which could have an enormous benefit to people previously unable to access different treatment options for mental health conditions like depression.”
Following initial training on how to use the tDCS device, study participants were remotely supervised via video link for the first few treatments done at home, and then via completion of an online treatment diary for the four weeks of treatment. Treatments were then spaced out and continued for several months to maintain the improvement.
The home trial comes at a time of growing interest in tDCS, an emerging form of non-invasive therapy that could be as effective as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)- the most commonly practiced non-invasive brain stimulation treatment in Australia- while affording greater convenience and less cost to patients.
“The study has been really useful for developing and refining protocols on use of home-based tDCS to treat depression. More data should be collected before this becomes a widespread treatment,” said Professor Loo.
“However, this early study gives us an exciting glimpse into a potential new way to deliver effective and safe mental health treatments at home, with cost and access benefits for both patients and clinicians.”
For more information about tDCS and other novel treatments for mental health conditions conducted by the Black Dog Institute, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that has shown promising results as a treatment for depression and other psychiatric conditions. It works by transmitting a weak electrical current into brain tissue via electrodes to the scalp, which modulates neuronal firing. Over time, this stimulation can change the functioning of neuronal networks to provide therapeutic benefits.
Like any treatment, tDCS is not suitable for everyone. Care is taken to screen patients to ensure the treatment is suitable and there is a likelihood of responding to the treatment. Both the mood of the patients and the stimulation are carefully monitored.
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