When Josephine Pina of Boston spotted an ad in the Metro newspaper seeking individuals who had difficulty with thinking and who moved slower than usual, she immediately contacted the staff at the Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) at Hebrew Senior Life. They were investigating the link between brain function, balance and falls in older adults. “I wanted to be part of the study and to see what the brain does at 67 years old,” she said.
The fact that the study involved transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was no deterrent. In fact, tDCS is a safe, noninvasive brain stimulation in which low-level currents are applied to the scalp through soft sponges. The currents can target different brain regions that affect locomotion and cognition.
The potential side effects of tDCS occur infrequently and are short-lived. Sensations such as mild tingling, light itching, slight burning, discomfort or mild pain usually resolve quickly. “At first it felt a little tingly, but you get used to it. It didn’t bother me. There were different tests for my memory and walking, but nothing was uncomfortable,” said Josephine.
Renowned scientist Brad Manor, PHD, the Director of the Mobility and Brain Function Research Program at IFAR and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, believes tDCS also has the potential to be a therapeutic intervention for older adults with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that impairs motor skills due to loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Primary symptoms include tremor, stiffness, slowness, weakened balance, and eventually a shuffling or freezing of gait. Motor control is particularly disrupted when patients with PD are dual tasking when walking; that is, walking while simultaneously focusing on an unrelated cognitive task.
Dr. Manor’s team, in conjunction with an Israeli team led by Professor Jeff Hausdorff at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, has received a prestigious, 3-year grant award from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. This award builds upon his past research and aims to demonstrate the impact of tDCS on mobility, gait and mental function in those suffering from Parkinson’s.
“We’re interested in learning how we can stabilize walking while enhancing mental function,” says Dr. Manor. “Falls are a debilitating and costly problem for the elderly, and particularly for those with PD, who are twice as likely to fall as people with other neurological conditions.”
“Evidence from this study will provide valuable data on the potential for tDCS to be used as a and may also lead to further studies involving other age-related neurological diseases,” says Dr. Manor.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, have had no recent changes in your Parkinson’s medication, are over the age of 40, able to speak, read and write in English and are able to walk independently, you may be eligible to participate in one of these studies.
Participants in these studies are paid for their time.
Support Aging Research at IFAR
World-class scientists at the Institute for Aging Research depend on support from people like you. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on your philanthropy to plan, conduct, and share research that is transforming the senior care landscape. By making a gift to support IFAR, you’re making a significant positive impact on major societal issues such as health care costs and quality of life – issues that affect each and every one of us.