MAY 02, 2019 10:08 AM PDT

By rewiring circuits, brain stimulation sharpens memory of older people

To remember a phone number or an address, you hold the information in your mind for a few seconds until you have the chance to write it down. During this process, neurons in your brain fire coordinated electrical bursts, generating electrical waves that allow you to hold on to this information for as long as it is needed. This temporary storage of information is called working memory.

Scientists believe that when we use this type of memory, neurons in different areas of the brain communicate through synchronized bursts of activity. "Cells that fire together, wire together," says Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University.

As we age, working memory fades because distant brain areas no longer fire in sync. Prior studies demonstrated that reduced working memory in elderly people is related to uncoupled activity in separate brain areas. Reinhart and colleagues sought out to test whether recoupling brain waves in older adults would restore their working memory ability.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Reinhart and his team used jolts of weak electrical stimulation applied to the scalp to synchronize waves in the prefrontal and temporal cortex - two brain areas involved in memory and cognition. They applied this current to 42 healthy people in their 60s and 70s. Before brain zapping, subjects looked at a series of images, some identical to one another and others slightly altered, and the objective was to spot whether the two images were different.

Then, participants took the test again, but this time while their brains were zapped with a current. After about 25 minutes of stimulation, participants were more accurate at identifying changes in the images compared to prior to the stimulation; their working memory was boosted.

A researcher tests transcranial stimulation on a research participant.

Photo source: NPR, Robert Reinhart

"In terms of this working memory task, we made the brain of a 70-year-old look like that of a 20-year-old," says Reinhart. But whether brain stimulation could boost the cognitive abilities of the elderly or help improve the memory of people with brain diseases such as Alzheimer's is unknown.

In the study, the working memory improvement lasted for just ~50 minutes and researchers did not measure any long-term effects of the stimulation treatment. Reinhart suspects that the cognitive boost may last for longer. The brain stimulation method used in this study is safe and non-invasive. Thus, these findings may contribute to more accessible treatments for cognitive decline in the elderly.

Source: NPR, Science

About the Author
You May Also Like
MAY 12, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Use Not Linked to Low IQ
MAY 12, 2020
Cannabis Use Not Linked to Low IQ
While 12% of adults in the US claim to have smoked cannabis, the same figure stands at 22% for those aged between 18 and ...
MAY 19, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Does Cannabinoid Deficiency Cause Common Illness?
MAY 19, 2020
Does Cannabinoid Deficiency Cause Common Illness?
Cannabis products are a godsend for many suffering from chronic illness. They are able to resolve multiple issues from d ...
JUN 15, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Prenatal Cannabis Exposure Does Not Cause Brain Damage in Children
JUN 15, 2020
Prenatal Cannabis Exposure Does Not Cause Brain Damage in Children
Parents and their children often face separation and other punishments due to the idea that prenatal cannabis exposure c ...
JUN 01, 2020
Neuroscience
New Path to Gene Therapy for ALS
JUN 01, 2020
New Path to Gene Therapy for ALS
Video: Todd Cohen, PhD (UNC) discusses GA protein accumulation.  At the time of this video promising research was a ...
JUL 09, 2020
Immunology
Infection During Pregnancy Could Trigger Autism in Children
JUL 09, 2020
Infection During Pregnancy Could Trigger Autism in Children
Researchers from the Center for Neuroscience at the University of California, Davis have revealed new insights into the ...
JUL 30, 2020
Immunology
Sunshine Could Lower Your Risk of Developing MS
JUL 30, 2020
Sunshine Could Lower Your Risk of Developing MS
In multiple sclerosis, or MS, the insulating sheaths around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called myelin becom ...
Loading Comments...