Applying a light amount of electricity to the brain may stimulate it enough that it leads to improvement in short-term memory in those with schizophrenia, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Cognitive issues are frequently seen in this population.
David Schretlen, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and colleagues decided to examine as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), which involves placing sponge-covered electrodes on a person’s head and passing a weak current between them. The procedure is considered safe and is also under examination for depression and memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers targeted an area of the brain known as the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is heavily involved in short-term, or working, memory and is abnormal in people with schizophrenia.
Eleven patients were recruited. Five with confirmed schizophrenia and six of their relatives. Each subject received two, 30-minute TDCS treatments. One was with a negative charge, which the researchers thought would show a benefit, while the other, a positive charge, was a control. During and after the treatment, participants completed cognitive tests.
The patients performed significantly better on tests involving verbal and visual working memory after receiving the negative charge, with the effects described as “surprisingly strong,” according to Schretlen.
The researchers are continuing to test TDCS in even more patients with repeated sessions to see if it provides long-lasting benefits.
“If [TDCS] enables people with schizophrenia to think more clearly, it would make a huge contribution to the treatment of this devastating illness,” Schretlen said in a statement.
Lightly stimulating the brain with electricity may improve short-term memory in people with schizophrenia, according to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The procedure, known as transcranial direct current stimulation, involves placing sponge-covered electrodes on the head and passing a weak electrical current between them. It is widely regarded as safe, and the procedure is being studied as a treatment for depression and Alzheimer’s-related memory loss, and to enhance recovery following strokes.
David Schretlen, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, reasoned that this type of brain stimulation might ease some of the cognitive difficulties that afflict people with schizophrenia.