Dysphagia – a swallowing disorder that affects stroke sufferers – could be alleviated by a new electrical brain stimulation, new research has found.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been found to enhance the outcome of swallowing therapy for post-stroke dysphagia- a disorder which can lead to greater healthcare costs, and has higher rates of complications such as dehydration, malnutrition, and pneumonia.
Lead investigator Nam-Jong Paik, MD, PhD, of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, South Korea said: “Our pilot study demonstrated that ten daily sessions of tDCS over the affected esophageal motor cortex of the brain hemisphere affected by the stroke, combined with swallowing training, improved post-stroke dysphagia. We observed long-lasting effects of anodal tDCS over three months.”
16 patients with signs of swallowing difficulties were enrolled in the trial, undergoing 30-minute sessions of swallowing therapy. One group was assigned to treatment and the other used as a control group, both of which were monitored with an electrode on the scalp and in the region associated with swallowing. Outcomes of the trial were measured before and after the experiment, as well as three months after the experiment.
They found that all patients improved, without much difference between the two groups just after the trial, however, at the three month follow-up, the treatment group showed significantly greater improvement than the control group.
“The results indicate that tDCS can enhance the outcome of swallowing therapy in post-stroke dysphagia,” notes Dr. Paik. “As is always the case in exploratory research, further investigation involving a greater number of patients is needed to confirm our results. It will be important to determine the optimal intensity and duration of the treatment to maximise the long-term benefits.”
There are currently over one million stroke survivors in the UK, of which, more than half have been left with disabilities that affect their daily life, such as dysphagia.