Introduction. Cognitive impairment after stroke has been associated with lower quality of life and independence in the long run, stressing the need for methods that target impairment for cognitive rehabilitation. The use of noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) on recovery of language functions is well documented, yet the effects of NIBS on other cognitive domains remain largely unknown. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review that evaluates the effects of different stimulation techniques on domain-specific (long-term) cognitive recovery after stroke.
Methods. Three databases (PubMed, EMBASE, and PsycINFO) were searched for articles (in English) on the effects of NIBS on cognitive domains, published up to January 2018.
Results. A total of 40 articles were included: randomized controlled trials (n = 21), studies with a crossover design (n = 9), case studies (n = 6), and studies with a mixed design (n = 4). Most studies tested effects on neglect (n = 25). The majority of the studies revealed treatment effects on at least 1 time point poststroke, in at least 1 cognitive domain. Studies varied highly on the factors time poststroke, number of treatment sessions, and stimulation protocols. Outcome measures were generally limited to a few cognitive tests.
Conclusion. Our review suggests that NIBS is able to alleviate neglect after stroke. However, the results are still inconclusive and preliminary for the effect of NIBS on other cognitive domains. A standardized core set of outcome measures of cognition, also at the level of daily life activities and participation, and international agreement on treatment protocols, could lead to better evaluation of the efficacy of NIBS and comparisons between studies.