The National Institute of Health describes brain stimulation therapy as the use of electricity to activate or inhibit the brain directly*. This includes repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) that uses a magnet, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and vagus nerve stimulation.
Experiments with tDCS began 15 years ago. The current levels are significantly less than that used with ECT, can better target a specific brain site, and is administered with what is essentially a nine-volt battery.
People can now self-administer tDCS. In the July 22, 2016 edition of the New York Times, Anna Wexler discusses the use of the noninvasive electric stimulation at home to promote learning and memory. She also looks at a letter posted to Annals of Neurology by neuroscientists concerned with “lay-men’s” use and argues that in her own interview-based research, home use has been found to be safe.
Of interest to me is the use of tDCS for treatment of depression and chronic pain. Of even greater interest is increased access to treatment. For a variety of reasons including perceived stigma, skepticism around efficacy, and money, people do not seek mental health treatment. I value the idea of a safe treatment in the home, recognizing the need to follow published schematics on where to place electrodes.
We are always seeking new approaches for recalcitrant depression, loosely defined as not having symptoms ameliorated after two complete rounds of psychotropic medications targeting two different mechanisms of action.
As a practitioner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, treatment is possible for some individuals without the use of medications or brain stimulation. This particular talk therapy targets and changes thought and behavioral patterns that maintain depressive symptoms.
Still, having as many options on the table as possible is vital for a condition that accounts for as much disease burden as ischemic heart disease and is projected to be the most common disability by 2020.