Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a noninvasive neurostimulation technique being translated clinically for the treatment of depression. There is limited research documenting the longer-term effectiveness and safety of tDCS treatment. This case series is the first report of remotely supervised, home-administered tDCS (HA-tDCS) for depression in a clinical setting.
We report clinical, cognitive, and safety outcomes from 16 depressed patients who received acute and/or maintenance HA-tDCS. We retrospectively examined clinical data from up to 2.5 years of treatment. Descriptive statistics are reported to document patient outcomes.
Twelve patients received acute treatment for a current depressive episode and 4 commenced tDCS maintenance therapy after responding to ECT or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). The cohort was highly treatment-resistant wherein 15 of 16 patients failed 3 trials or more of antidepressant medication in the current episode, and 6 patients failed to gain significant benefit from prior ECT or rTMS. Five of 12 patients responded to acute tDCS within 6 weeks, and 9 patients who received tDCS for more than 12 weeks maintained improvements over several months. Cognitive tests showed no evidence of impairments in cognitive outcomes after up to 2 years of treatment. Two patients were withdrawn from treatment because of blurred vision or exacerbation of tinnitus. Transcranial direct current stimulation was otherwise safe and well tolerated.
Transcranial direct current stimulation given for at least 6 weeks may be of clinical benefit even in treatment-resistant depression. Results provide support for long-term effectiveness, safety, and feasibility of remotely supervised HA-tDCS and suggest a role for maintenance tDCS after acute treatment with tDCS, rTMS, or ECT.