New research investigates whether electrical stimulation can delay dementia

March 14, 2018

Memory loss: Around 20 participants aged 65-plus are sought for a trial using non-invasive brain stimulation sessions.

Murdoch University researcher Dr Hakuei Fujiyama has received $50,000 to investigate whether the delivery of small electrical currents to the scalps of older people with mild memory, language and reasoning difficulties can delay the onset of dementia.

Dr Fujiyama, from the School of Psychology and Exercise Science, will use the funds from the Dementia Australia Research Foundation to investigate whether mild electrical stimulation can slow down the effects of memory loss and attention deficits, while supporting the quality of life and care of people who are struggling to manage their time and pay attention to instructions.

Around 20 participants aged 65-plus are sought for the trial, which will use bouts of non-invasive brain stimulation sessions.  Some participants will receive a weak electrical current during the trial. Others will receive sham stimulation, in which there is no electrical current applied to the scalp.

The study will also recruit older people who have never experienced difficulties as a control group and is expected to run in May.

Mild cognitive impairments can affects people’s ability to control their attention, behaviour, thoughts and emotions.  They can be an indicator of a decline in memory, and can signal the difference between normal ageing and the start of the symptoms of dementia.

There is already some evidence that transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) can increase the quality of life of people with mild dementia symptoms.

Dr Fujiyama said participants would be given an ongoing dose of stimulation for 20 minutes. The current, delivered through rubber electrodes, is a safe and inexpensive approach that produces a subtle sensation with few reported side effects.

The frequency and polarity of the current would be changed constantly throughout the trail to see whether it could help brain connectivity that helps mental control and self-regulation.

Dr Fujiyama is working on follow-up research to determine whether recurring doses of the electrical stimulation can improve memory, reasoning and quality of life in people with mild cognitive impairments.

“The most common adverse effect is the tingling sensation of the scalp where electrodes are placed,” Dr Fujiyama said. “There is convincing evidence that there is no statistically significant differences between real and sham stimulation. Furthermore, people have indicated that any sensations experienced disappear shortly after the cessation of the stimulation.”

Anyone interested in being involved in the trial can contact Dr Fujiyama on 9360 2879 or by email at Hakuei.fujiyama@murdoch.edu.au.

Media enquiries: Connie Clarke 9360 2734 / 0424 287 361 / connie.clarke@murdoch.edu.au

 

FAST FACTS

  • Recent studies indicate that people with mild cognitive impairment are more likely to develop dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease. It is currently estimated they are three to five times more likely to develop dementia than others their age.
  • Around 15 per cent of people with more severe diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia each year.
  • If similar trials are successful, the inexpensive treatment could save billions from the public purse and reduce the number of Australians living with dementia symptoms by 2056.
  • There are around 244 people who develop dementia each day in Australia, according to a 2017 report prepared by Alzheimer’s Australia. It predicts that by 2056, more than 650 people daily will join the dementia population.

 

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Media contact: Connie Clarke
Tel: (08) 9360 2734  |  Mobile: 0424 287 361  |  Email: connie.clarke@murdoch.edu.au
Categories: General, Research, School of Psychology and Exercise Science
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