Improving cognition in severe mental illness by combining cognitive remediation and transcranial direct current stimulation: study protocol for a pragmatic randomized controlled pilot trial (HEADDSET)

Anika Poppe, Leonie Bais, Danielle Van Duin, Branislava Ćurčić-Blake, Gerdina Marieke Pijnenborg, Lisette van der Meer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

Background
A fundamental challenge for many people with severe mental illness (SMI) is how to deal with cognitive impairments. Cognitive impairments are common in this population and limit daily functioning. Moreover, neural plasticity in people with SMI appears to be reduced, a factor that might hinder newly learned cognitive skills to sustain. The objective of this pilot trial is to investigate the effects of cognitive remediation (CR) on cognitive and daily functioning in people dependent on residential settings. In addition, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is used to promote neural plasticity. It is expected that the addition of tDCS can enhance learning and will result in longer-lasting improvements in cognitive and daily functioning.

Methods
This is a pragmatic, triple-blinded, randomized, sham-controlled, pilot trial following a non-concurrent multiple baseline design with the participants serving as their own control. We will compare (1) CR to treatment as usual, (2) active/sham tDCS+CR to treatment as usual, and (3) active tDCS+CR to sham tDCS+CR. Clinical relevance, feasibility, and acceptability of the use of CR and tDCS will be evaluated. We will recruit 26 service users aged 18 years or older, with a SMI and dependent on residential facilities. After a 16-week waiting period (treatment as usual), which will serve as a within-subject control condition, participants will be randomized to 16 weeks of twice weekly CR combined with active (N = 13) or sham tDCS (N = 13). Cognitive, functional, and clinical outcome assessments will be performed at baseline, after the control (waiting) period, directly after treatment, and 6-months post-treatment.

Discussion
The addition of cognitive interventions to treatment as usual may lead to long-lasting improvements in the cognitive and daily functioning of service users dependent on residential facilities. This pilot trial will evaluate whether CR on its own or in combination with tDCS can be a clinically relevant addition to further enhance recovery. In case the results indicate that cognitive performance can be improved with CR, and whether or not tDCS will lead to additional improvement, this pilot trial will be extended to a large randomized multicenter study.

Trial registration
Dutch Trial Registry NL7954. Prospectively registered on August 12, 2019.
Original languageEnglish
Article number275
Number of pages16
JournalTRIALS
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13-Apr-2021

Keywords

  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction/diagnosis
  • Cognitive Remediation
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Pilot Projects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

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