Concurrent exergaming and transcranial direct current stimulation to improve balance in people with Parkinson's disease: Study protocol for a randomised controlled trial


Background: People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) commonly experience postural instability, resulting in poor balance and an increased risk of falls. Exercise-based video gaming (exergaming) is a form of physical training that is delivered through virtual reality technology to facilitate motor learning and is efficacious in improving balance in aged populations. In addition, studies have shown that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (a-tDCS), when applied to the primary motor cortex, can augment motor learning when combined with physical training. However, no studies have investigated the combined effects of exergaming and tDCS on balance in people with PD. Methods/design: Twenty-four people with mild to moderate PD (Hoehn and Yahr scale score 2-4) will be randomly allocated to receive one of three interventions: (1) exergaming + a-tDCS, (2) exergaming + sham a-tDCS or (3) usual care. Participants in each exergaming group will perform two training sessions per week for 12 weeks. Each exergaming session will consist of a series of static and dynamic balance exercises using a rehabilitation-specific software programme (Jintronix) and 20 minutes of either sham or real a-tDCS (2 mA) delivered concurrently. Participants allocated to usual care will be asked to maintain their normal daily physical activities. All outcome measures will be assessed at baseline and at 6 weeks (mid-intervention), 12 weeks (post-intervention) and 24 weeks (3-month follow-up) after baseline. The primary outcome measure will be the Limits of Stability Test. Secondary outcomes will include measures of static balance, leg strength, functional capacity, cognitive task-related cortical activation, corticospinal excitability and inhibition, and cognitive inhibition. Discussion: This will be the first trial to target balance in people with PD with combined exergaming and a-tDCS. We hypothesise that improvements in balance, functional and neurophysiological outcome measures, and neurocognitive outcome measures will be greater and longer-lasting following concurrent exergaming and a-tDCS than in those receiving sham tDCS or usual care.