Using electricity to stimulate the brain can boost people’s working memory
A neuroscience team at US Boston University gave people in their sixties and seventies the working memory of someone in their twenties by specifically stimulating the brain, and the effect lasted at least 50 minutes after the stimulation stopped. Their desire was to understand the normal brain aging and to develop methods to maintain or improve cognition in older adults, which will help in treating a range of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
The study was published in Nature Neuroscience and implied 42 people in their twenties and 42 in their sixties or seventies. The procedure implied a noninvasive stimulation with the purpose of modulating long-range theta interactions in adults aged 60-76 years, who after 25 minutes of stimulation showed rapid improvement in working-memory performance.
The working mind is where our minds keep temporary information, for example, when we are writing down a phone number as someone reads it out loud, we are using our working memory. Problem-solving, mathematical calculations and decision-making all involve working memory too. This is different from long-term memory which is where we store memories – like the first day at school, wedding day, etc. Working memory is the one that declines naturally with age.
Dr Reinhart, assistant professor at Boston University and one of the researchers stated: “We can bring back the more superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger. This is important because the global population is rapidly aging, and the elderly struggle with many real-world activities that critically rely on their memories.” These included “recognizing human faces, navigating the physical environment, remembering to take their medication and making financial decisions”, he said.
Other scientists want the experiment to be repeated with larger groups of people in order to be certain of the results as it is uncertain how long the benefits will last, since this initial test only had effect for 50 minutes. For it to be useful in real life it would need a long-term benefit or a way to make the technology portable. Researchers also hope that one day they could use brain stimulation for brain disorders like dementia, autism, ADHD, or epilepsy.