Let the Healing Begin!
The long-awaited arrival of consumer-oriented tDCS devices has begun. I received one of the first shipments of the innovative and interesting foc.us headsets (www.foc.us) and want to share with you my initial thoughts. Be prepared, there is a lot of ground to cover, so I will do it over a few shorter blog posts rather than one giant one. While marketed as a “gamer” accessory (probably to limit FDA flack), this headset offers great potential to those seeking a tDCS device to help with depression, enhanced learning, and more.
First, what the heck is tDCS? Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a ground-breaking technology that allows for simple, nearly side-effect free treatment of depression, chronic pain, enhancement of learning and memory, and more. For more details on the basics of tDCS, please see the articles on my blog, www.speakwisdom.com. I also suggest www.diytdcs.com and www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com.
The foc.us headset is not the first attempt to get a consumer-oriented (read user-friendly) tDCS device into the market. www.biocurrent.kit offers a less expensive, less-elegant, but very versatile solution for those seeking a tDCS device. There are also lots of do-it-yourself schematics and plans for tDCS devices available via the internet. Your choices now boil down to a DIY device for about $50, the biocurrent kit for about $200, the foc.us headset for about $300, a repurposed iontophoresis device for about $350, or more expensive research devices ranging from about $500 to $5000!
Is the foc.us headset perfect? No! But it is a wonderful start to what will likely grow to become a “standard” as new features are added and annoying bugs are worked out.
Let’s start at the beginning! Unpacking!
(The larger box is the headset kit, the smaller is the optional accessory kit)
The foc.us headset arrives in an attractive and professionally prepared box. Inside is a travel and storage case containing the headset, sponges, USB charging cord, a small bottle for water, instructions, and foc.us stickers (ala Apple.)
(The case containing the foc.us headset and other essential items)
(The headset resting in its travel and storage case)
If you purchase the accessory kit, you receive a second smaller box containing electrode wires, some “TENS” style stick-on electrodes, a stand for your headset, some extra sponges for the headset, and a nice carry bag.
(The accessory kit)
Charge the Headset
Before you start fiddling, I suggest a good charge of the headset. Just plug the USB charger cord into the bottom of the headset and some convenient USB ac-adapter (or PC) and give it a couple of hours. Make sure the switch on the bottom is set to “W”. Oddly the headset uses “O” for on and “W” for off. First suggestion for version two – use the internationally recognized 1 and 0 for on and off.
The comfortable and light headset has a “fixed” position for its electrodes. placing them on the forehead and upper forehead. The position selected by foc.us will be of interest to a large audience. Why? It happens to correspond nicely to an accepted location for treatment of depression (yes, there are others) and a position described in various studies for learning enhancement. Electrode placements not addressed by the headset itself are handled with the wire electrodes in the accessory kit. I’ll have much more on electrode placement later.
For the slightly technical, you will want to know that the left electrodes (sponges) are the ANODE and the right are the CATHODE. Two electrodes on each side? Think of it as a way to have one larger sponge on each side covering more of the frontal lobe area.
For those who may have already been using a DIY tDCS device built around an LM334 or current limiting diode (CLD), you are in for a bit of a shock (almost literally). The inverter circuitry of the foc.us headset allows voltage to rise as high as 60 volts (according to the specs) to overcome resistance between the anode and cathode. I measured 65 volts between the electrodes with no load (head) in place. Dangerous? No, since current is limited to 2 mA. But the charge can feel uncomfortable! Most DIY tDCS devices are built around a simple current limiting device so electrode voltage can never rise above that of the source battery – so no discomfort from a higher voltage – but they also need really good electrode to skin contact.
To avoid irritation, you’ll want to make sure your foc.us electrodes are wet (not dripping) and placed flat against your forehead and upper forehead.
The included instruction manual does a good job of providing basic operating instructions. It does not go into details of electrode placement, tDCS theory, etc. That information can come from other sources. The main operating control is a “touch button” on the back of the headset. It allows setting treatment type, current level, and starting and stopping treatment sessions. Default session length is 10 minutes.
Much of the versatility in treatment customization will come via the iOS and Androids foc.us apps (not yet released as of this writing.)
Part 2 and Beyond
There is MUCH to cover about the foc.us headset. I’ll discuss day-to-day operation, electrode placements, use of the iOS app (when it becomes available) and much more. Stay tuned! You may find this is the tDCS device you have been waiting for!