Combining walking rehabilitation with non-invasive brain electrical stimulation to enhance mobility and cognition

Chanoan Sumonthee

Authors:  Chanoan Sumonthee, Sudeshna A. Chatterjee, Jared W. Skinner, Paige E. Lysne, Samuel S. Wu, Ronald A. Cohen, Dorian K. Rose, Adam J. Woods, David J. Clark

Faculty Mentor: David J. Clark

College:  College of Medicine


Loss of mobility and cognitive abilities threaten the independence of older adults. Both are affected by impaired cognitive executive function. We seek to develop a novel therapeutic intervention to enhance both mobility and cognition by targeting the brain circuits that control executive function. This study combines the practice of challenging walking tasks with mild transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). We hypothesized that active tDCS would show preliminary evidence of beneficial effects compared to sham tDCS. Twenty older adults participated in 18 sessions of walking therapy. While walking, participants wore a backpack with an electrical stimulation device that was connected to electrodes placed on the forehead. Using a randomized double-blind design, each person was assigned to receive either active or sham tDCS. Mobility and cognitive tests were conducted before and after the intervention. The active tDCS group had a larger improvement than the sham tDCS group for several outcome measures. These include speed of walking over obstacles (effect size=0.35), the N-back test of working memory (effect size = 0.71), and the NIH EXAMINER test of executive function (effect size = 0.44). tDCS shows promise as an effective, safe addition to walking rehabilitation for enhancing mobility and cognitive function in older adults.

Poster Pitch

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7 Responses
  1. Bryn Tolchinsky

    Chanoan!! Great dude with your pitch and your poster! And what an awesome result! Keep doing big things dude

  2. Estelle in 't Zandt

    This is really cool! How did you come up with this novel treatment for the subjects?

    1. chanoan

      Thanks! tDCS is still a relatively new neuromodulation technique that has not been explored very much yet. My team saw that tDCS was being utilized in research as a single-session intervention limited to either looking at its effects on cognition or motor function, but not both. Motor learning is also an intervention utilized in the rehabilitation sciences, something that my research team already does work in. We then envisioned the combined effects of utilizing both interventions as a new way of combating both cognitive and motor deficits. Perhaps the combination of the two would elicit greater performance improvements rather than one by itself.