Posted on May 06, 2019, 8 p.m.
Stimulating brains of those aged 60+ with mild electrical current improved working memory enough that they performed like those in their 20s according to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
In the future patients may be making visits to clinics to get this ability boost which typically declines in normal aging processes as well as in dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, according to Robert Reinhart of Boston University.
This treatment is said to target working memory, which is the ability to hold information in mind for a matter of seconds as a task is being performed, that is sometimes called the workbench or scratchpad of the mind crucial for things such as paying bills, planning, buying groceries, or taking medications. “It’s where your consciousness lives ... where you’re working on information,” explains Reinhart.
This is not the first study to show brain stimulation can boost working memory, but according to Reinhart this study is notable for showing success in older individuals and the memory boosts lasting for nearly and hour minimum after brain stimulation ended.
Previously boosting memory with electrical stimulation was noted to decline in ability with normal aging is not huge, but “they removed the effects of age from these people,” says Dr. Barry Gordon of Johns Hopkins School Of Medicine. “It’s a superb first step” toward demonstrating a way to improve mental performance.”
Electrical current was administered via a tight cap that monitored subject brainwaves, participants reported feeling a slight tingle, itching, or poking sensation for about 30 seconds while under the electrodes, after which skin appeared to get used to the current as it became imperceptible.
The goal was aimed at improving communication between the prefrontal cortex and the temporal cortex because rhythms of activities in these regions had fallen out of sync with each other, by applying electrical current to the regions the researchers attempted to nudge the activity cycles back into a matching pattern.
Findings add new evidence that a breakdown in communication causes loss of working memory with age, says Reinhart, who adds that additional research is needed before this method can be formally tested as a treatment.
This study involved 42 participants who were in their 20s and another 42 aged 60-76 years old who were first tested on a measure of working memory via viewing images on a screen followed by a blank screen for 3 seconds, then a second image either identical to the first or slightly altered; subjects then had to identify whether the second image was the same or not.
The older group was observed to be less accurate, but during and after 25 minutes of real brain stimulation the older group did just as well as the younger group; improvements lasted for at least another 50 minutes after stimulation had ended at which point testing stopped. The same results were achieved in a second group of 28 participants aged 62+. While it is not clear as to how long memory benefit reached beyond that point, previous research suggests it may extend as long as up to 5+ hours after stimulation.
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