Older Adults’ Memory is Improved by an Experiment with Electric Brain Stimulation

4 mins read

In order to keep us fully functional for longer and prevent dementia and disorders like Alzheimer’s, scientists are attempting to address the fact that our memory tends to deteriorate with age due to a rapidly aging global population.

According to a recent study, modest, non-invasive electrical stimulation delivered through an electrode-equipped cap may be sufficient to counteract the negative effects of aging and maintain the health and resilience of our memory circuits.

Transcranial alternating current stimulation, or tACS, is what it is officially called as, and it supposedly works by syncing our brain waves.

Only 20 minutes of stimulation per day was required in trials by Boston University researchers to result in observable improvements in 2 types of memory function that persisted for at least a month.

This could lead to new treatments for memory issues as well as ways to keep our minds active as we age with further study.

The researchers conclude in their publication that “our findings suggest that the plasticity of the aging brain can be selectively and sustainably exploited via repetitive and highly focalized neuromodulation.”

Here’s what the researchers did: In a series of studies, 150 people aged 65 to 88 received electrical brain stimulation for 20 minutes each day for four straight days. They had to listen to and remember each of five lists of twenty words while doing this.

Two specific regions of the brain were addressed with different frequencies based on prior studies.

Working memory, or the capacity to recall information quickly, is demonstrated by the ability to recall words towards the end of lists when the inferior parietal lobule of the brain is stimulated at a frequency of 4 Hz (like the platform number your train is leaving from).

The individuals were demonstrated to remember words from the beginning of the lists better when the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was stimulated at a frequency of 60 Hz, demonstrating an improvement in long-term memory. After a week of vacation, being able to recall where you parked your car at the airport is an example of long-term memory.

Prior to the stimulation treatment, those who performed cognitively the least had the largest and longest memory recall improvements.

The neuroscientist Tara Spires-Jones of the University of Edinburgh told The Guardian that the research was “promising” and demonstrated how versatile and agile the brain is.

Spires-Jones pointed out that the participants’ unique word-list task might not be highly indicative of normal activities.

We also don’t yet know whether people with memory impairment brought on by a brain disorder can benefit from this form of stimulation and brain training, and this topic was left unaddressed in this study.

Next, researchers can investigate how the treatment can benefit persons who are at risk of dementia, a syndrome that affects about 55 million people worldwide and causes the brain to degenerate more rapidly than would be anticipated from normal biological aging.

Although it is still early, this is a promising beginning because the technology is non-invasive, quick to apply, lasts at least a month, and improves both short-term and long-term memory recall.

Cognitive neuroscientist Shrey Grover of Boston University said in a statement to Nature, “We’re hoping that we can build on this work in important ways and contribute additional knowledge about how the brain functions.”


The study was released in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.


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