June 28, 2017 – Don’t Try at Home


Anchor lead: For people who have trouble speaking, an electrical current delivered through the skull may help, Elizabeth Tracey reports

Primary progressive aphasia, or PPA, is medicalese for a condition where people have trouble speaking or naming things, but don’t have Alzheimer’s disease or another common cause. Kyrana Tsapkini, a PPA researcher at Johns Hopkins, is using an ancient technique to try to help.

Tsapkini: Transcranium direct current stimulation. We now have the biggest cohort of patients in the country who are being treated with TDCS. Mostly 50% of this current goes through the skull to the brain area underneath.   :15

Tsapkini says it’s not really known exactly why external electrical stimulation through the skull may help.

Tsapkini: What is new is it started with stroke rehabilitation. If electricity helps, what does it do? We want to make the neurons to fire faster. :10

The technique may also help brain cells communicate better with each other. Tsapkini says most people describe the intervention as a kind of buzzing on their scalp and do not report it as painful, but she says those who may be tempted to try using such a strategy themselves to improve memory really shouldn’t, since the consequences of stimulation aren’t known. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.