Transcranial direct current stimulation and attention skills in burnout patients: a randomized blinded sham-controlled pilot study.
Background: Burnout is characterized by deficiencies in attention and several components of the working memory, of which the lingering effects of impaired attention and executive functions are the most frustrating. We hypothesized that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (atDCS) over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) can improve the executive control of attention and possibly several other components of working memory in patients with burnout. Methods: This was a randomized double-blind sham-controlled pilot study with two groups. Patients with burnout received three weeks of daily sessions (15 sessions in total) of atDCS or sham stimulation in addition to three weekly sessions of standard behavioral therapy. The primary outcome measure was attention and the central executive of the working memory. Secondary, the effect of atDCS was measured on other components of working memory, on burnout and depression scores, and on quality of life (QoL). Results: We enrolled and randomly assigned 16 patients to a sham or real stimulation group, 15 (7 sham, 8 real) were included in the analysis. atDCS had a significant impact on attention. Post-hoc comparisons also revealed a trend towards more improvement after real tDCS for inhibition and shifting, updating and control, and encoding. Both groups improved on burnout and depression scores. Conclusion: These data provide preliminary evidence for the value of atDCS over the left DLPFC in rehabilitating attention deficits, and possibly also central executive and encoding deficits, in burnout. However, the current study has some limitations, including the sample size and heterogeneous patient population. More elaborate studies are needed to elucidate the specific impact of atDCS over the left DLPFC on burnout. Trial registration: ISRCTN.com ( ISRCTN94275121) 17/11/19.
PMID: 33363715 [PubMed – in process]
Authors: Van Noppen P, van Dun K, Depestele S, Verstraelen S, Meesen R, Manto M