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Sara Assecondi, Kimron Shapiro; The benefits of combined brain stimulation and cognitive training: a pilot study. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):119. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.119.
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Average life expectancy has increased during the last century, resulting in an increasing aging population. It is therefore of paramount importance to develop new strategies to address age-related cognitive decline. Recent advances in safe, non-invasive direct current stimulation (tDCS) combined with cognitive training show tremendous promise as means of slowing cognitive decline in the ageing population. In this pilot study we address the benefit of combined tDCS and cognitive training on working memory. Twelve participants receiving working memory training were randomly assigned to two groups: an active (rtDCS) group or a control (SHAM) group. Individuals included in the active group received 20 min of tDCS on the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex while completing the cognitive training, whereas participants in the control group completed the cognitive training alone. The training task consisted of an adaptive visuo-spatial N-back task. Each participant completed 7 sessions of training, and pre- and post-training assessment sessions, to measure transfer of training to other cognitive domains. Our pilot data suggest that the concurrent use of cognitive training and tCS has a beneficial effect on the rate at which participants improve during the training. This is in agreement with recently published animal data (Krause, CurrBiol, 2017). The data further suggest evidence of transfer to a non-spatial visual task, an important hallmark of successful training. This pilot study has two main limitations. First, all participants are young (20-35), hence they are already at ceiling of their memory capacity. Second, the sample size is very limited, due to the complexity of the design (multiple sessions), and a larger sample would be needed to draw firmer conclusions. Notwithstanding these limitations, we believe that our approach represents a viable path to reveal the potential of combined brain stimulation and cognitive training to improve cognitive performance in both normally and abnormally ageing adults.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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