Groundbreaking Alpha-Stim results

Article about the Alpha-Stim AID from the Sunday Times. 26thMay 2019;

A handheld instrument that delivers mild electric shocks can relax people who have suffered for years with anxiety, a groundbreaking NHS trial suggests.

Half of patients went into remission after treating themselves with the battery-operated device. Researchers say it has the potential to revolutionise mental healthcare and could save the health service millions of pounds.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) affects up to 5% of the UK population. It is a long-term condition that causes anxious feelings on most days. Sufferers often struggle to remember when they last felt relaxed. Nadiya Hussain, the 2015 winner of The Great British Bake Off, recently discussed her struggles with anxiety. She has been crippled by panic attacks since childhood.

The main treatments are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and drugs such as antidepressants. Medication can be harmful, and patients face long waiting lists for CBT.

In the NHS trial in Leicestershire, researchers assessed the clinical and cost effectiveness of the Alpha-Stim AID device. It delivers a treatment called cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES).

The device is about the size of a mobile phone and sends small currents via the earlobes to increase “alpha waves” in the brain, promoting a more relaxed state.

Those in the trial had been diagnosed with GAD and had not responded to low-intensity treatment such as computer-aided therapy, in which patients are encouraged to change their thinking in interactive online sessions.

Each was given the device to use at home, clipping it to their ears for 60 minutes a day for six weeks. Some continued to 12 weeks. The results surprised the researchers. All of the 161 patients were examined after 12 weeks, and 72 had achieved remission, according to a research paper published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

In total, 63% of those in the trial saw an improvement in their anxiety symptoms. After 24 weeks, the number of patients in remission had increased to 77 — or 48% — even though they had not used the device for at least 12 weeks. The overall effectiveness was “comparable” to that of CBT.

There were limitations to the trial, such as the sample size and a lack of ethnic and gender diversity, though the patients lived in both deprived and affluent areas.

Richard Morriss, a professor of psychiatry at Nottingham University’s NIHR MindTech centre, said: “Alpha-Stim CES was more effective at achieving remission than we expected. As well as improvements in anxiety, there were improvements in depression and insomnia, but further research is required in patients with depression and sleep problems.”

The Alpha-Stim AID device costs about £600. Researchers said that because it could be rented to patients at a cost to the NHS of about £70, the therapy saved about £540 per patient compared with existing treatments.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which provides national guidance and advice to the NHS, is producing a briefing on the device to support NHS staff who are considering it.

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© 2018  Richard Morley