Giving memory a lift: Can games and brain stimulation do it?

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A person’s working memory is critically important for functioning in daily life. Older people and those who have Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or who have had a stroke may experience a degradation of their working memory.

A new study finds that combining cognitive exercises and electrical brain stimulation can substantially strengthen working memory.

A person’s working memory may decline with age or if they have dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or have had a stroke. When this occurs, the loss can affect their day-to-day quality of life, turning even simple tasks into often-demoralizing challenges.

Prof. Gail Eskes explained working memory to Medical News Today, and why it is so important.

“Working memory is the brain’s mental scratchpad,” she noted, “and it can be used to keep in mind, and work with, a variety of different types of information.”

“For example,” she offered, “you use working memory when you are keeping in mind someone’s phone number once you’ve looked it up, or keeping in mind an image of a map of the city in order to plan a way to get to your destination.”

“Your working memory ability is important for all kinds of activities,” said Prof. Eskes, “such as reading a newspaper, doing math at a restaurant to figure out a tip, making decisions, and problem-solving.”

Prof. Eskes is a member of the Department of Psychiatry, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Division of Neurology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is the co-author of a new study describing a possible means of helping people regain their working memory.

Researchers from Dalhousie, the University of Trento in Italy, and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom contributed to the study, which found that cognitive training alongside transcranial direct current stimulation significantly strengthens working memory.

Dr. Jacqueline Becker, a clinical neuropsychologist and health services researcher at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in the study, told MNT that “with working memory training, the brain can rewire and reorganize itself as a result of repeated training and practice.”

“This is based on neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of an experience,” Dr. Becker explained.

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