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.