Scientists Reverse Memory Loss With Electrical Pulses Delivered to Brain

Monday, 08 April 2019 - 12:35PM
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Monday, 08 April 2019 - 12:35PM
Scientists Reverse Memory Loss With Electrical Pulses Delivered to Brain
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Composite adapted from Pixabay images
Scientists at Boston University have developed a non-invasive technique that temporarily reverses age-related memory loss. Their research, published today in Nature Neuroscience, focused on restoring working memory. A news article published concurrently with the research describes working memory as "the ability to store behaviorally useful information for a few seconds, [which] declines with age and is considered a core component of cognitive deficits associated with aging."


The researchers asked two groups of young (20 - 29 years old) and old (60 - 76 years old) people to participate in a working memory task while having their brain activity recorded with an electroencephalograph (EEG). The older group performed more poorly on the task than the younger group. The older participants then received 25 minutes of non-invasive electrical brain stimulation administered through the scalp. Following this, they were again asked to complete a working memory task. The researchers found that the older group started performing as well as the younger group and the effects lasted up to 50 minutes. Moreover, the worst performers showed the most improvement.


Despite the marked improvement, other scientists were quick to caution that there was nothing to suggest a long-term benefit. In an interview with The Independent, Oxford University Professor Dorothy Bishop noted that "there is no indication that any beneficial effects of stimulation persist beyond the experimental session."


Although the effects were only temporary, the researchers were optimistic about the possibilities revealed by their findings, writing that "future research will be important to determine the full time course of the stimulation-induced behavioral advantages and whether they can transfer to other working-memory functions (for example, capacity, updating, switching) and higher-order cognitive abilities that rely on working memory, such as language comprehension, mathematical competence, and decision-making." 


"Age-related changes are not unchangeable," Boston University neuroscientist Robert Reinhart and study author told The Guardian. "We can bring back the superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger." 

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