Craig Gibbons was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2021 and was prescribed antibiotics to treat it. However, the medication failed to relieve one of his most debilitating symptoms: a lasting brain fog that made it difficult for him to focus or recall information. In search of a solution, he decided to try at-home brain stimulation using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
At-Home Brain Stimulation
Brain stimulation involves sending tiny electrical currents to specific parts of the brain to alter its activity. Some forms of brain stimulation are well-established such as transcranial magnetic stimulation used to treat depression and deep brain stimulation to ease symptoms of Parkinson's disease. At-home brain stimulation is becoming popular among enthusiasts who claim it enhances their mental state and provides an advantage for work or exams.
Gibbons had heard that tDCS could alleviate symptoms of brain fog and decided to try it. He found that it helped him to wake up a little bit and get things going. The at-home devices for tDCS are available online and typically range in cost from $40 to $500. They involve placing electrodes on certain parts of the head and sending electrical impulses through the skull to the brain.
While the use of at-home brain stimulation devices is on the rise, many scientists are concerned about their safety in the long term and lack of knowledge about their effects. Despite the growing popularity, they are opposed to the use of these devices at home. Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University, warns that "we are talking about injecting electricity into someone’s brain" and that "we need to better understand what these tools can do including any unintended consequences they may have."
Anna Wexler, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, studies the reasons why and how people use brain stimulation at home. Her research has found that people are using these devices to treat mental health disorders or to improve mental performance. However, the science behind why electrically stimulating the brain appears to aid memory and thinking abilities is still in its early stages.
A study led by Robert Reinhart, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that delivering small electric zaps to the brain appeared to boost memory in a group of older adults for at least one month. The findings suggest that brain stimulation could one day become mainstream, similar to the way people use caffeine to increase alertness.
At-home brain stimulation using tDCS is a growing trend, but there is a lack of knowledge about its safety and long-term effects. While there is some early research suggesting that it could aid memory and thinking abilities, further study is needed to better understand its effects.
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