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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for improving aphasia in patients after stroke

Bernhard Elsner, Joachim Kugler, Marcus Pohl, Jan Mehrholz
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013 June 25, (6): CD009760
23799617

BACKGROUND: Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Aphasia among stroke survivors is common. Current speech and language therapy (SLT) strategies have only limited effectiveness in improving aphasia. A possible adjunct to SLT for improving SLT outcomes might be non-invasive brain stimulation by transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to modulate cortical excitability and hence to improve aphasia.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of tDCS for improving aphasia in patients after stroke.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (April 2013), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, March 2012), MEDLINE (1948 to March 2012), EMBASE (1980 to March 2012), CINAHL (1982 to March 2012), AMED (1985 to April 2012), Science Citation Index (1899 to April 2012) and seven additional databases. We also searched trials registers and reference lists, handsearched conference proceedings and contacted authors and equipment manufacturers.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and randomised controlled cross-over trials (from which we only analysed the first period as a parallel group design) comparing tDCS versus control in adults with aphasia due to stroke.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted the data. If necessary, we contacted study authors for additional information. We collected information on dropouts and adverse events from the trials.

MAIN RESULTS: We included five trials involving 54 participants. None of the included studies used any formal outcome measure for measuring functional communication, that is measuring aphasia in a real-life communicative setting. All five trials measured correct picture naming as a surrogate for aphasia. There was no evidence that tDCS enhanced SLT outcomes. No adverse events were reported and the proportion of dropouts was comparable between groups.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Currently there is no evidence of the effectiveness of tDCS (anodal tDCS, cathodal tDCS) versus control (sham tDCS). However, it appears that cathodal tDCS over the non-lesioned hemisphere might be the most promising approach.

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