Electrical brain stimulation experiment improves memory in older people

(ORDO NEWS) — As we age, our memory tends to deteriorate, and with the world’s population rapidly aging, scientists are trying to solve this problem in order to keep us productive longer and prevent dementia and diseases like Alzheimer’s.

A new study shows that gentle, non-invasive electrical stimulation applied through a cap with attached electrodes may be enough to combat the effects of aging and keep our memory circuits in better and stronger shape.

This is technically called transcranial alternating current stimulation, or TASS, and is thought to work by synchronizing brain waves.

In experiments conducted by researchers at Boston University, just 20 minutes of stimulation per day was enough to produce noticeable improvements in two types of memory functions that lasted for at least a month.

With further research, this could open up methods for preserving mental sharpness with age, as well as treating memory problems.

“Our results indicate that the plasticity of the aging brain can be selectively and sustainably harnessed through repetitive and highly focused neuromodulation,” the researchers write in their published paper.

Here’s what the team did: In a series of experiments, 150 people aged 65 to 88 received 20 minutes of electrical brain stimulation per day for 4 consecutive days. At the same time, they were asked to listen and recall 5 lists of 20 words each.

Based on previous research, two specific areas of the brain were targeted at different frequencies.

Stimulation of the lower parietal lobe of the brain at 4 Hz improved the recall of words at the end of the lists – this is working memory in action, the ability to remember something in the short term (for example, the number of the platform from which your train leaves).

Stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex at 60 Hz helped participants recall words from the top of the lists, suggesting improved long-term memory. An example of long-term memory is the ability to remember where you parked your car at the airport after a week’s vacation.

Those who showed the worst level of cognitive ability before stimulation treatment had more significant and lasting improvements in memory.

“This is promising work and shows how amazingly flexible and adaptive the brain is,” neuroscientist Tara Spiers-Jones of the University of Edinburgh told The Guardian.

However, Spiers-Jones noted that the specific word listing task given to participants may not be as representative of day-to-day activities.

What we don’t know yet, and what this study hasn’t looked at, is whether people with impaired memory due to a brain disorder can be helped with this kind of brain stimulation and training.

This is something researchers could explore further, as well as potentially analyze how treatments can help those at risk for dementia, a syndrome that currently affects about 55 million people worldwide and in which the brain deteriorates more than it should have. would be expected from normal biological aging.

While it’s still early days, it’s a promising start: the technology is non-invasive, can be applied quickly and works for at least a month, and works on both short-term and long-term memory.

“We hope to be able to expand on this work and contribute more information about how the brain works,” Shrei Grover, a cognitive neuroscientist at Boston University, told Nature in an interview.


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