Brain stimulation improves short-term memory in older adults for a month, study finds

Valerie PatmintraBrain Health, Cognitive Aging, News

This CNN article details a new study published by a team at Boston University that found sending electrical currents into two parts of the brain known for storing and recalling information modestly boosted immediate recall of words in people over age 65.

McKnight Brain Research Foundation Trustee, Dr. Richard Isaacson said the study “provides important evidence that stimulating the brain with small amounts of electrical current is safe and can also improve memory.”

The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that brain cells are “activated at specific time points, and that is defined by the frequency of the (electrical) stimulation,” said study coauthor Shrey Grover, a postdoctoral student in the brain, behavior and cognition program at Boston University.

“The consequence of changing the timings at which brain cells activate is that it induces this process of plasticity. The plasticity is what allows the effects to be carried forward in time even when the stimulation has ended,” he added.

Overall, the study results showed low-frequency theta currents improved short-term working memory at one month while higher frequency gamma stimulation did not. The opposite was true for the longer-term memories – gamma, but not theta, improved performance.

“Based on the spatial location and the frequency of the electrical stimulation, we can improve either short-term memory or long-term memory separately,” explained study coauthor Robert Reinhart, director of the Cognitive & Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at Boston University. This means researchers can tailor the treatment to a person’s needs, Reinhart said. 

When asked what that would be like, McKnight Brain Research Foundation Trustee, Dr. Richard Isaacson said:

“In an ideal world, a portable at-home device that could offer this therapy would be the eventual goal. For now, it’s cumbersome to receive these treatments, as specialized equipment is needed. It can also be time-intensive and costly as well. Still, there are limited treatment options for cognitive aging, which affects tens of millions of people, so this is a hopeful step forward to address symptoms and improve brain health.”

Read the full CNN article.

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