Help for Your Brain: A Great Gift!

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation ( tDCS ) has come a long way in just a few years.  This incredible technology can relieve depression, improve memory, speed learning, and more and is slowly moving toward main-stream as new research, products, and government approvals come along. It’s been the darling of university research centers since Scientific American published a ground-breaking article about tDCS in 2011 ( see https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/amping-up-brain-function/

The Go Flow 4 comes in an attractive zipper case ready for travel.

Now foc.us (www.foc.us) has another product in their portfolio of brain stimulation and EEG related products – the Go Flow 4 – which is available in the US from http://www.caputron.com for $244. This complete kit includes a versatile, compact tDCS device, battery, electrodes, wires, headband and basic instructions.

The Go Flow 4 case contains all you need except water!

Here’s How It Works

The Go Flow 4 tDCS device passes an extremely small direct current through your brain via specific locations on your scalp in order to enhance or reduce a particular kind of brain activity.  It is thought that the excitation level of various brain cells is modified by the current and can result in reduction or elimination of depression symptoms, improved memory, quicker learning (including physical task learning), improved sleep, and more.  Electrodes must be placed correctly and 20 minute sessions must be repeated daily for a number of days in order to receive the full benefit of tDCS. tDCS is used by the US military, various mental health professionals, and pioneering individuals around the world. 

My famous tDCS test-head with foc.us electrodes and headband ready for a tDCS session.

To use the Go Flow 4 you follow some simple steps:

  1. Attach the battery to the Go Flow 4 device
  2. Place electrodes in the headband at the desired button-hole locations and moisten the electrode sponges with tap water or saline water.
  3. Set the current and duration for the session using the rocker switch on the Go Flow 4
  4. Place the headband on you head and position as desired. Start the tDCS session and monitor current and time remaining using the LED lights on the tDCS device

More detailed instructions are included with the Go Flow 4 and should be read carefully before use.

While most tDCS scenarios (called “montages”) use two electrodes and a current of two milliamps or less, the Go Flow 4 has some advanced capabilities that permit the use of four electrodes simultaneously, a current of up to four milliamps, and a special mode call slow oscillating tDCS (sotDCS.)  More on these in my next post.

Using the Go Flow 4

My experience with the Go Flow 4 is very positive. It is easy to use, very convenient, great for portable and travel use, and delivers predictable and reliable tDCS sessions. I love that you no longer need to disconnect the battery after use as a prior version of the Go Flow required.  

Before you buy this or any tDCS device, do your homework.  tDCS is not for everyone. Read about tDCS (google search at least) and decide if it is right for you. I can also suggest you visit:

www.speakwisdom.com
www.caputron.com
www.foc.us
www.diytdcs.com
reddit.com/r/tdcs

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Summer is Here! Time for The Brain Stimulator Travel Model!

Travel Model Advanced 2x2 Kit - Unplugged_NEW
(The Brain Stimulator Travel Model shown with available electrodes, wires, and headband. The tDCS module itself is very small and easy to transport.)

I am a longtime fan and proponent of tDCS.  There is plenty of evidence that this simple, safe, technology can be used to reduce or eliminate depression, treat chronic pain (including migraine headaches), enhance memory and learning, and more!  If you are new to tDCS, take a look at the index of tDCS articles I’ve posted at https://speakwisdom.wordpress.com/tdcs/

If you are looking for a high quality tDCS device that also happens to be ideal for summer travel, you should consider “The Brain Stimulator Travel Model”.  This is a well-built, basic, tDCS device that can deliver 1 or 2 mA with the flick of a switch and can stand-up to being repeatedly tossed into a suit-case or travel bag, jostled around, and still come out ready to go and deliver a reliable tDCS session.  Depending on the configuration you buy, it can cost as little as $55 – or a bit more with high quality electrodes and other accessories.

The Brain Stimulator Travel Model also makes an excellent first tDCS device or a supplemental device if you already own something more sophisticated.  It is built by JD Leadam and his team at Neurolectrics – real pioneers in the DIY tDCS marketplace.

 

IMG_1692
(The packaging of the devices is simple, neat, and able to withstand travel related abuse.)

Neurolectics used a tried and true design built around a current regulator and a 9 volt battery. It’s simple, safe, and reliable – but because a 9 volt battery is used as its energy source, it is very important that sponge-electrodes be used and that they be well wetted with a saline solution in order to assure delivery of 1 or 2 mA (depending on switch setting).

I always prefer that a DIY tDCS device have some monitoring capability (digital or analog meter) to assure that the desired current level is being delivered. Neurolectrics chose not to take that path with this device – I assume to keep cost at a minimum and the package as small as possible.  If you are a frequent tDCS user, I’d suggest changing the 9 volt battery every couple of months – and again – be sure to use well wetted sponge electrodes to help assure you receive the selected stimulation level.

IMG_1690
(Neurolectrics places all significant components on a nicely manufactured PC board. This limits point-to-point wiring and makes for a more reliable device – important for a travel device.)

The Brain Stimulator Travel Model could not be easier to use!  Simply wet the electrode sponges, place the electrodes as desired with a headband, flip the switch to 1 or 2 mA, and begin timing your tDCS session (20 to 25 minutes is typical.) When done, switch off the device, take off and stow the electrodes and you are done.  If you really are traveling with the device, I suggest you remove the sponges from the electrode shells and place them in a small water-tight container.  You should also wash them frequently with good soap and plenty of water to prevent anything undesirable from growing in them!

I’ve taken several trips (including through airports and airport security) with the The Brain Stimulator Travel Model and found it to be quite handy for personal use and for demonstrating tDCS as seminars.  Don’t expect any flashing lights or fancy meter with this unit.  It’s basic tDCS – and it works.

Visit the Neurolectics website at https://thebrainstimulator.net/

I welcome your comments and questions.

Brent

 

 

Thoughts on the Use of tDCS in Education Settings

Why the Interest in tDCS?

Research studies and anecdotal evidence show that tDCS, a simple and safe way to stimulate the brain, does have the ability to enhance memory, speed learning, improve physical skill, and enhance creativity.  There are now well over 1,000 published studies of tDCS with more underway and research participation of institutions ranging from Harvard Medical, MIT, Emory University, to the University of Alabama and dozens more.


(tDCS headset. http://www.foc.us)

Already, high-school and college students are catching on to just what tDCS may do for them.  There are many YouTube and blog posts from and by students discussing their experience with tDCS and others asking for help in setting up and using a tDCS device.  Some indicate substantial improvement in their performance with tDCS. As tDCS devices become more accessible and word of it continues to spread through popular press and internet resources (NYT, Nature, Scientific American and many others have already published tDCS articles), educators can eventually expect to be confronted with some significant ethical and policy questions.

While it’s difficult to pin-down an exact percentage improvement students see in their work, (more studies are required), students use words like “significant”, “substantial”, and “surprising” in their comments. As time goes on, not only will more students demand access to tDCS, it is likely that parents, seeking greater success for their children, will encourage its use.

How Might tDCS Be Used by Students

  • During study for tests – including high-stakes (SAT, etc.)
  • Learning lists of material (names, dates, places, events, etc.)
  • Learning new languages (spoken and written)
  • Improving athletic skill
  • Enhancing creativity in writing, art, film production, etc.
  • To reduce or eliminate depression (a common problem in student populations)

Ethical Issues

Educators must face the reality that certain students will “brain boost” using tDCS and by doing so, improve their classroom performance as well as on assorted tests that are common in education settings. Even “high-stakes” test outcome could be positively influenced for students making proper use of tDCS. Student athletes may use tDCS to improve their performance on the tennis court or football field.

  • If a student using tDCS for study can perform 10% better on an SAT test than an equally talented student who does not possess a tDCS device, is there a fairness or ethical issue?
  • If a student has a learning disability and through the use of tDCS is able to perform at “non-disability” levels, is there a fairness or ethical issue?
  • Will we now enter a new era of “haves and have not’s” in K-12 and higher-education learning?
  • Will students from middle-class and above families, able to afford a device and related training, take advantage of it while lower income, less advantaged students will go without?

If tDCS, well used, can improve test scores, is that not ultimately going to be very significant in the lives of some students?


(George Mason University)

Policy Questions

If tDCS is going to play some role in the lives of K-12 and higher ed students in the coming years, then perhaps it’s time to begin creating policy to address tDCS – including:

  1. Will tDCS use be permitted (even though it will be impossible to regulate home use)?
  2. Will students be trained in proper tDCS use in school? (or after school)
  3. Will schools provide tDCS devices for students when the family cannot afford it?
  4. Will schools encourage tDCS as a means to improve test scores?
  5. Will school clinics offer tDCS treatments for those suffering with depression (rather than medicate them?)
  6. Will legal liability issues limit the ability of schools to responsibly encourage and direct the use of tDCS in education settings?

tDCS is a wonderful thing! It has the potential to help the human condition on so many levels – from depression to Parkinson’s disease, with learning enhancements thrown in as a bonus. How will we, as educators, respond to this fascinating new capability – which students have already discovered?

Let the dialog begin!

Contact me via brent@speakwisdom.com

For more information on tDCS see www.speakwisdom.com, http://www.diytdcs.com, http://www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com, http://www.pubmed.gov, and Google!

Can a 9 Volt Battery Save A Life – Even Yours?

 

A 9 Volt Battery???

It’s becoming very clear that persons with serious brain related issues can, in many cases, be very effectively treated with the simple application of an extremely low current to the scalp, sourced from a common battery! Nothing painful, exotic, complicated, or dangerous is involved. Yes, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can be used to treat depression, chronic pain, and is being researched as an aid for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients. But TDCS has also been shown to be an effective way to speed learning, ease memorization, and enhance creativity. As an example of how far ranging tDCS use is, the US Air Force and Army have apparently been using tDCS techniques to improve cognitive capabilities for years!


(Scientific American)

I’ve been completely fascinated by tDCS since I first learned of it. What other technology is so simple yet has the potential to help so many – whether it be to treat depression, chronic pain, or just dramatically improve the ability to learn or memorize almost anything. What else does all of that with almost no risk or side-effects? Why this isn’t the lead story on the evening news and your local paper is hard to explain.

Think this is all hocus-pocus? Many big name research institutions around the world are now involved in tDCS including MIT, Harvard Medical School, Emory University, University of Michigan, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital,  Massachusetts General Hospital, University Medicine Berlin, The City College of New York and many more. A quick look at http://www.pubmed.gov will reveal that over 900 studies of tDCS have now been published!

What is the treatment?

tDCS basically involves using a tiny amount of energy from a battery applied in particular locations on the scalp, depending on the effect desired. A one or two milliamp ( 0.001 amp) direct current is applied via saline-wetted sponges to two points on the head. For example, for depression the negative lead is placed just above the right eye on the forehead and the positive lead goes high on the left-forehead.) For depression, typical treatment lasts about 20 minutes once a day for about 30 days and the person receiving the treatment feels nothing other than a slight tingle. Treatment can easily done at home. That’s it. No expensive medications with unpredictable results and terrible side effects. It works! Wow! Big pharma is not going to be happy about this!

tDCS treatment hardware is so simple that people (sometimes desperate for help and at the end of their rope) are building their own tDCS treatment systems (about $50 in parts at Radio Shack will do! Instructions are on the web.)

000_0031
(An example tDCS device built by the author)

While assembled tDCS equipment sold by vendors in the US normally requires a prescription (raising the price to $300 or more), the safety record of tDCS has caused the FDA and suppliers to “look the other way” allowing a number of vendors to now begin offering tDCS equipment directly to individuals. For example, a company by the name of foc.us has recently started shipping a feature laden tDCS headset which sells for about $250.  


(medgadget.com)

There are doctors and clinics now offering tDCS services. One of the better known is in Atlanta – see http://www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com/ Here’s a quote from the Atlanta clinic website, “Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a safe, non-invasive therapy for treatment-resistant neurologic, psychiatric and chronic pain disorders. You can increase memory and learning with tDCS, too. Effective, easy-to-do, inexpensive and without side effects, tDCS can be done in the outpatient clinic or, for the appropriate patient, in the home which provides obvious advantages. “

So, Can a 9 Volt Battery Save a Life – Even Yours?

The Centers for Disease Control reports that about 10% of Americans are clinically depressed and either on medication or in need of it.  Also, about 40,000 people per year commit suicide in the US! This huge depression/suicide problem is not being effectively addressed because many who need treatment will not seek it out.  Why? There are several possible reasons including the stigma of depression and its treatment, lack of access to appropriate care, the high cost of treatment and medications, etc. tDCS is inexpensive, simple, side-effect free, and shown to have positive effect in many scientific studies. In my opinion, It should be in the “tool kit” of every doctor and mental health professional.

I’ll close for now and provide you with some links to investigate. tDCS looks to be a bombshell that could literally transform the lives of many, many people. It probably deserves your awareness!

To get you started: 


I have a large number of tDCS related articles and links on my website:

www.speakwisdom.com

General Interest Wikipedia Article:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcranial_direct-current_stimulation

tDCS – Scientific American and the Air Force:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=amping-up-brain-function

General Interest Article with Many References

http://www.mindalive.com/articlenten_Transcranial_DC_Stimulation.htm

British Journal of Psychiatry:

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/200/1/52.abstract

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/200/1/10.abstract

Interesting Video and Text about Electrode Positioning:

http://www.jove.com/video/2744/electrode-positioning-montage-transcranial-direct-current

Atlanta Doctor Providing tDCS Services:

http://www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com

tDCS Headset:

www.foc.us

Links to more tDCS information

http://www.diytdcs.com

My tDCS Wish List

I have been reading studies, attending training, experimenting with, and writing about transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for about two years now.  Needless to say, I am enthusiastic about what tDCS can do for many people who use it for depression, chronic pain, enhanced creativity, and memory. It may also may have positive effect for other important conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – there are certainly studies that show that to be the case.


(Scientific American)

Given that it has positive effect on many who try it, it could improve the quality of life of millions of people around the world. All of this without drugs, without the cost of drugs, and with no significant side-effects.

With all the great things I’ve learned about tDCS, I thought I’d share a little of my tDCS Wish List for the next five years:

In The Next Five Years I Wish That:

  1. every appropriate medical practitioner (and counselor) would at least become aware of tDCS. A treatment this good, this simple, this safe, with so much positive effect should not be overlooked. It should be a tool in the kit of considered-treatments for every practitioner.
  2. that the popular press would at least make an attempt to write sensible and factual articles about tDCS. For example, it would be great to stop comparing tDCS to electro-shock treatment. Could they be any more different? Such mindless hype scares people who might be helped greatly by tDCS.
  3. that funding could be found to “get the word out” about tDCS. Because there are no drug company $ billions for magazine ads, TV commercials, and infomercials, it looks as though tDCS will always be a niche treatment, known by a lucky few – missed by millions it could help. I wonder how many lives could be vastly improved (or saved) if tDCS were as well-known as Viagra?
  4. that I could find one or more well-known, depressed, troubled Hollywood star(s), known for appearances in People Magazine and on TMZ – who would agree to a course of tDCS treatment. Once improved, those stars would have to be willing to speak about tDCS – the treatment that got them out of the pit. For better or worse, we live in a “star” powered society – such articles appearing in Hollywood rags and read and seen by millions could really help push tDCS towards a tipping point.
  5. that my second career be all about researching, writing, and speaking about the practical side of tDCS. There is a whole world full of people who need the help that this simple treatment can offer. A tDCS device can be as simple as a 9 volt battery, an inexpensive CRD diode, and a couple of sponges. Imagine the good that could be done!
  6. that I could find one or more philanthropists willing to join in the good work related to tDCS – and help a whole lot of people in the process! There are $ millions of research dollars flowing to universities and research centers all around the world looking at tDCS. But there is very little being done to get tDCS to the people who can benefit from it. If you are a philanthropist who really wants to make a difference in a very tangible way, feel free to contact me. Let’s get something started!


(One of the most important contributions of tDCS:
a simple treatment for the depression epidemic.)

Mark the date. At this point, for certain types of treatment, tDCS is well researched, simple, and considered safe. We all know that tDCS is barely known among the masses and the medical community. Ask any doctor you know  – I’d say the odds are about 1 in 100 that they know anything at all about tDCS.

What will things be like in 2018? By 2018, how many millions will have suffered for lack of access to a tDCS device and a tDCS trained professional? Can you help?

foc.us-mal-female-london-thumb
(A self-contained tDCS treatment headset. http://www.foc.us)

The tDCS “Cat” is Out of the Bag

Miracle Medication

Aspirin is a miracle medication. Isolated by Hoffman in 1897, it is a simple compound that, these days, can be created by anyone who has had a high-school chemistry course. Aspirin can, of course, be purchased in commercial form and most people are familiar with certain maladies that can be treated by it. On the fringes, there are esoteric uses for aspirin, but in the main, it is well understood and used by millions of people every day.

images

What about transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)? It’s simpler and (apparently) safer than aspirin – when used correctly – and is effective in treating depression, chronic pain, enhancing learning and much more in otherwise healthy people. So why can’t the average person on the street buy a tDCS device and self-administer treatment?

20120813-200950.jpg

(neura.edu.au)

There are at least three reasons. First, tDCS is relatively new and studies that confirm its effectiveness and safety are just emerging. Two, certain tDCS treatment scenarios can be pretty complex, well beyond the ability of an average person to carry out. Third, there is no way for big-pharma to cash in on tDCS (yet). It’s very unlikely you will ever see expensive commercials during your favorite TV show advertising tDCS to treat some focus-group tested three-letter malady. It won’t happen. tDCS devices are extremely simple to build (or buy) and treatment protocols for certain ailments ARE simple and are all over the internet.

The average Joe will learn about tDCS and start demanding access to it because a bunch of do-it-yourself (DIY) folks and a few physicians will have succeeded in a grass-roots effort to get the word out. Yes, there is also a small and growing group of doctors that see the obvious benefits of tDCS (and lack of risk) and are starting to use it with their patients – and their patients are becoming some of the best spokes-persons for tDCS.

Problems, Problems

According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 adults in the US uses some form of antidepressant.  Their depression may or may not be well controlled and they likely suffer at least some noticeable side effects. Sources vary, but about $3 billion is spent on antidepressants every year. These numbers do not reflect a significant number of individuals who ARE depressed but not receiving any treatment – due to costs, social pressures, etc.

It’s hard to believe, but various sources report that as many as 1 in 3 Americans suffer from chronic pain.  Cost? $500-600 billion per year!

The tDCS Triad

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation has been shown to provide relief for depression and chronic pain, and to enhance learning (the tDCS triad) – and much more. When treating the “triad”, it is simple, apparently very safe, and has no significant side effects. Can similar claims be made for any other other treatment (medication)?

Does it work for everyone? The simple answer is no, but for many it does – and for many who failed to get relief (or enhancement) from medications.

tDCS is not just about depression, chronic pain, and learning enhancement. As mentioned above, there are very broad areas of research seeking potential use in treating Alzheimers, stroke, brain trauma, etc. Treatment for those less understood ailments can be quite complex and require MRI or FMRI to design an appropriate regimen and the use of “high definition” tDCS, using ten electrodes or more, as part of the treatment. This is well beyond the ability of the DIY community.

But the “triad” (depression, chronic pain, learning enhancement) is normally treated with simple “bipolar tDCS” – two electrodes are placed in very specific locations on the scalp, which are well known, as part of normal treatment.

Because bi-polar tDCS involves such simple equipment and procedures, a rather sizable “do-it-yourself” community has taken up the mantle of treating themselves and helping friends reap the benefits of tDCS.

DIY tDCS is growing because most doctors have no idea what tDCS is – or what it can do. Further, doctors who do use tDCS cannot bill insurance for tDCS treatments (it is not yet “recognized” by the FDA.) So treatment can be expensive – out of reach for many – and simply unavailable in most areas of the US. So it seems that the DIY community will continue to build tDCS devices, use tDCS to treat the “triad”, and spread the word via emails and blogs. Meanwhile, research centers, Universities, and the like will continue their work on all areas of tDCS using their more sophisticated equipment and techniques to push the boundaries of tDCS application.

tDCS for Everyone?

One day, tDCS may be as commonly used as aspirin for treating certain issues – but we have a long, long way to go to get to that point. Like aspirin, tDCS won’t help everyone – but scientific and anecdotal evidence says it can help many. So while we wait, millions go untreated (or poorly-treated) and live lesser lives due to lack of access to tDCS triad treatments and all the benefits they can bring. Come on medical community, come on FDA.