Transcranial brain stimulation has been shown to help everything from depression to Parkinson’s, and a growing body of research suggests it could be a massive tool against a variety of neurological conditions. Now, new research has suggested that non-invasive transcranial electrical stimulation could boost the memory of older adults for a month, with possible resounding impacts on how healthcare could deal with age-related memory decline (or even boosting your brain ready for an exam).
The research, produced by scientists at Boston University, was published in Nature Neuroscience.
Building on previous studies that suggest working memory (short-term memory) and long-term memory are controlled by specific areas of the brain, the paper used different frequencies of electrical stimulation on these areas to see if it improved the respective memory types.
The team recruited 150 adults aged 65 and over to complete a task of recalling 20 words while their brain was constantly subjected to transcranial alternating current stimulation. High frequencies were delivered to front of the brain in a region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to target long-term memory, while low frequencies were targeted at the inferior parietal lobe in an attempt to improve working memory.
The process was repeated on four consecutive days. Designed to test both types of memory, the results measured how well participants could recall items from the start of the list (long-term memory) and from the middle of the lists (working memory).
Participants showed improved memory as the four days progressed, particularly in those that scored lowest to begin with. These improved outcomes could still be measured one month later, suggesting the therapy has some longer-lasting effects. Participants in the control group that received a placebo stimulation did not improve their memory.
“Their results look very promising,” says Ines Violante, a neuroscientist at the University of Surrey, in a statement to Nature.
“They really took advantage of the cumulative knowledge within the field.”
The study appears to be unique in its methodology, delivering the stimulation for multiple days in a row in contrast to previous studies that only did one session. The results have garnered praise from experts in the field, though it still remains to be seen how long-lasting the effects are as well as what applications the therapy may have.
The team now hopes to delve further into the technology to see whether it could have effects on neurodegenerative disorders.