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Study enrolling patients with dementia for pain management

Researchers at UTHealth are studying the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or “brain massage therapy” for pain management in persons with dementia. (Photo by UTHealth)
Researchers at UTHealth are studying the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or “brain massage therapy” for pain management in persons with dementia. (Photo by UTHealth)

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) are studying the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or “brain massage therapy” for pain management in persons with dementia.

The home-based intervention, led by Hyochol “Brian” Ahn, PhD, assistant dean of research at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth, will use a head cap to send tiny electrical charges to the brain to target pain in hopes of eliminating discomfort. 

“The brain is responsible for processing both cognition and pain,” said Ahn, who is the Isla Carroll Turner Chair in Gerontological Nursing at Cizik School of Nursing. “So, by using brain massage therapy on persons with dementia, we can target that area and help with pain management.”

Pain control for dementia patients is important but can be challenging. Because dementia impacts cognition, most people with dementia are unable to verbally communicate their pain. “Most patients who are unable to express their pain will become very agitated or aggressive,” Ahn said.  

Patients enrolled in the study will take home the head gear and use the cap for 20 minutes, once a day, for five consecutive days. While using the device, participants will be monitored by researchers using videoconferencing. After five days, patients will return the device and researchers will collect their data.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health (R15NR018050). Ahn is hoping to recruit 40 patients by June 2021.

To be eligible, participants must be:

  • 50 to 90 years old
  • Have early-stage Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias
  • Have chronic pain reported by caregiver

Since patients with dementia are often unable to verbally communicate their pain, their caregivers may have to evaluate their facial expressions and changes in their behavior to determine whether they may be a good candidate.

“Pain management is important to slow down the progression of dementia,” said Ahn. “Based on my current research, we know that this type of intervention is already somewhat proven to be safe and effective in reducing pain.”

Ahn is also currently studying the use of this device in older adults with knee osteoarthritis.

For more information, call 713-500-2179.

Media Inquiries – 713-500-3030

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