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Can we improve pain and sleep in elderly individuals with transcranial direct current stimulation? – Results from a randomized controlled pilot study

Authors Harvey MP, Lorrain D, Martel M, Bergeron-Vezina K, Houde F, Séguin M, Léonard G

Received 28 January 2017

Accepted for publication 30 March 2017

Published 6 June 2017 Volume 2017:12 Pages 937—947

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S133423

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Amy Norman

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Richard Walker


Marie-Philippe Harvey,1,2 Dominique Lorrain,1,3 Marylie Martel,1,2 Kayla Bergeron-Vezina,1 Francis Houde,1,2 Mario Séguin,2,4 Guillaume Léonard1,2,5

1Research Centre on Aging, CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS, 2Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Université de Sherbrooke, 3Department of Psychology, Université de Sherbrooke 4Department of Neurosurgery, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke, 5School of Rehabilitation, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada

Background: The prevalence of chronic pain and sleep disturbances substantially increases with age. Pharmacotherapy remains the primary treatment option for these health issues. However, side effects and drug interactions are difficult to control in elderly individuals.
Aims: The objective of this study was to assess the feasibility of conducting a randomized sham-controlled trial and to collect preliminary data on the efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to reduce pain and improve sleep in older adults suffering from chronic pain.
Methods: Fourteen elderly individuals (mean age 71±7 years) suffering from chronic pain and sleep complaints were randomized to receive either anodal tDCS, applied over the primary motor cortex (2 mA, 20 minutes), or sham tDCS, for 5 consecutive days. Pain was measured with visual analog scales, pain logbooks and questionnaires, while sleep was assessed with actigraphy, sleep diaries and questionnaires.
Results: There were no missing data for pain and sleep measures, except for actigraphy, that generated several missing data. Blinding was maintained throughout the study, for both the evaluator and participants. Active but not sham tDCS significantly reduced pain (P<0.05). No change was observed in sleep parameters, in both the active and sham tDCS groups (all P≥0.18).
Conclusion: The present study provides guidelines for the implementation of future tDCS studies in larger populations of elderly individuals. M1 anodal tDCS in this population appears to be effective to reduce pain, but not to improve sleep.

Keywords: transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS, pain, sleep, elderly, actigraphy, aging

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