New paper: Tolerability and blinding of 4×1 high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) at two and three milliamps

Download: PDF published in Brain Stimulation – DOI

Jaclyn Reckow, Annalise Rahman-Filipiak, Sarah Garcia, Stephen Schlaefflin, Oliver Calhoun, Alexandre F. DaSilva, Marom Bikson, Benjamin M. Hampstead



Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is an in-demand form of neuromodulation generally regarded as safe and well tolerated. However, few studies have examined the safety, tolerability, or blinding of High Definition (HD-) tDCS, especially in older adults and at stimulation intensities of 2 milliamps (mA) or greater.


We examined the rates of serious adverse events and common side effects to establish safety and tolerability, respectively, in HD-tDCS. Blinding was evaluated using participants’ accuracy in correctly stating their condition (i.e., active or sham).


The sample included 101 older adults (Mage = 69.69, SD = 8.33; Meduc = 16.27, SD = 2.42) who participated in our double blind randomized controlled studies or in case studies that used HD-tDCS for 20–30 min at 2 mA (n = 66, 31 active) or 3 mA (n = 35, 20 active). Participants completed a standardized side effect questionnaire and were asked whether they received active or sham stimulation at the end of each session.


There were no serious adverse events and no participants withdrew, suggesting that HD-tDCS meets basic safety parameters. Tolerability was comparable between active and sham HD-tDCS regardless of intensity (2 mA and 3 mA) in first session (allp > .09). Tingling was the most commonly endorsed item (59% active; 56% sham) followed by burning sensation (51% active; 50% sham), the majority of which were mild in nature. “Severe” ratings were reported in fewer than 4% of sessions. Blinding appeared adequate since there were no significant group differences between individuals correctly stating their stimulation condition (χ2 = 0.689, p = .679). The above tolerability and blinding findings generally persisted when multiple session data (i.e., 186 total sessions) were considered.


HD-tDCS appears well-tolerated and safe with effective sham-control in older adults, even at 3 mA. These data support the use of HD-tDCS in randomized controlled trials and clinical translation efforts.

Neural Engineering