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No effect of tDCS on fatigue and depression in chronic stroke patients: an exploratory randomized sham-controlled trial combining tDCS with computerized cognitive training

By Kristine M. Ulrichsen, Knut K. Kolskaar, Genevieve Richard, Mads Lund Pedersen, Dag Aln├Žs, Erlend S. Dorum, Anne-Marthe Sanders, Sveinung Tornas, Luigi A. Maglanoc, Andreas Engvig, Hege Ihle-Hansen, Jan Egil Nordvik, Lars T. Westlye

Posted 28 Jun 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.06.22.21258133

Fatigue and emotional distress rank high among self-reported unmet needs in stroke survivors. Currently, few treatment options exist for post stroke fatigue, a condition frequently associated with depression. Non-invasive brain stimulation techniques such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) have shown promise in alleviating fatigue and depression in other patient groups, but the acceptability and effects for chronic phase stroke survivors are not established. Here, we used a randomized sham-controlled design to evaluate the added effect of tDCS combined with computerized cognitive training to alleviate symptoms of fatigue and depression. 74 patients were enrolled at baseline (mean time since stroke = 26 months) and 54 patients completed the intervention. Self-report measures of fatigue and depression were collected at five consecutive timepoints, spanning a period of two months. While fatigue and depression severity were reduced during the course of the intervention, Bayesian analyses provided evidence for no added effect of tDCS. Less severe symptoms of fatigue and depression were associated with higher improvement rate in select tasks, and study withdrawal was higher in patients with more severe fatigue and younger age. Time-resolved analyses of individual symptoms by a network-approach suggested overall higher centrality of fatigue symptoms (except item 1 and 2) than depression symptoms. In conclusion, the results support the notion of fatigue as a significant stroke sequela with possible implications for treatment adherence and response, but reveal no effect of tDCS on fatigue or depression.

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