Combining transcranial direct current stimulation with a motor-cognitive task: the impact on dual-task walking costs in older adults

Nofar Schneider, Moria Dagan, Racheli Katz, Pablo Cornejo Thumm, Marina Brozgol, Nir Giladi, Brad Manor, Anat Mirelman, Jeffery M. Hausdorff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background: The performance of a secondary task while walking increases motor-cognitive interference and exacerbates fall risk in older adults. Previous studies have demonstrated that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) may improve certain types of dual-task performance, and, that tDCS delivered during the performance of a task may augment the benefits of stimulation, potentially reducing motor-cognitive interference. However, it is not yet known if combining multi-target tDCS with the simultaneous performance of a task related to the tDCS targets reduces or increases dual-task walking costs among older adults. The objectives of the present work were (1) To examine whether tDCS applied during the performance of a task that putatively utilizes the brain networks targeted by the neuro-stimulation reduces dual-task costs, and (2) to compare the immediate after-effects of tDCS applied during walking, during seated-rest, and during sham stimulation while walking, on dual-task walking costs in older adults. We also explored the impact on postural sway and other measures of cognitive function. Methods: A double-blind, ‘within-subject’ cross-over pilot study evaluated the effects of 20 min of anodal tDCS targeting both the primary motor cortex (M1) and the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (lDLPFC) in 25 healthy older adults (73.9 ± 5.2 years). Three stimulation conditions were assessed in three separate sessions: (1) tDCS while walking in a complex environment (tDCS + walking), (2) tDCS while seated (tDCS + seated), and (3) walking in a complex environment with sham tDCS (sham + walking). The complex walking condition utilized virtual reality to tax motor and cognitive abilities. During each session, usual-walking, dual-task walking, quiet standing sway, and cognitive function (e.g., Stroop test) were assessed before and immediately after stimulation. Dual-task costs to gait speed and other measures were computed. Results: The dual-task cost to gait speed was reduced after tDCS + walking (p = 0.004) as compared to baseline values. Neither tDCS + seated (p = 0.173) nor sham + walking (p = 0.826) influenced this outcome. Similar results were seen for other gait measures and for Stroop performance. Sway was not affected by tDCS. Conclusions: tDCS delivered during the performance of challenging walking decreased the dual-task cost to walking in older adults when they were tested just after stimulation. These results support the existence of a state-dependent impact of neuro-modulation that may set the stage for a more optimal neuro-rehabilitation. Trial registration: Clinical Trials Gov Registrations Number: NCT02954328.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


FundersFunder number
Israel-US Bi-national Science Foundation


    • Accidental falls
    • Aging
    • Cognitive
    • Dorsal-lateral pre-frontal cortex
    • Dual-task
    • Fall risk
    • Gait
    • Neural stimulation
    • tDCS


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