Home HEALTH Precise brain stimulation boosts memory

Precise brain stimulation boosts memory

USING electricity to precisely stimulate the brain can boost people’s working memory, a study suggests.
The team at Boston University, in the US, gave people in their sixties and seventies the working memory of someone in their twenties. The effect lasted at least 50 minutes after the stimulation stopped.
But larger studies are now needed to see if stimulation could help people in the ‘real world’ or in treating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Working memory is where your mind keeps temporary information, and has been described as the ‘sketch pad of the mind’.
You need your working memory to write down a phone number as someone reads it out to you. Problem-solving, mathematical calculations, and decision-making all involve working memory too.
Robert Reinhart, an assistant professor at Boston University, and one of the researchers says: ‘It’s essentially where consciousness lives.’
Working memory is different from long-term memory, which is how you recall your first day at school, wedding day, childhood pet, etc. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, took 42 people in their twenties, and 42 in their sixties or seventies.
They played a glorified game of spot-the-difference between two images shown one after the other.
The young adults were faster and more accurate without any brain stimulation. But the older adults’ performance improved with brain stimulation.
Dr. Reinhart said: ‘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.
The researchers were focused on brainwaves in two regions of the brain involved in working memory – the temporal and prefrontal brain regions.
‘The brain is like a conductor of an orchestra, and it’s using low-frequency rhythms [brainwaves] to communicate information,’ says Dr. Reinhart.
But the study showed that brainwaves become out of sync – like musicians giving a disjointed performance – as we age. The team at Boston University started by recording people’s brainwaves with an electroencephalogram.
They used electricity stimulation – specifically high definition transcranial alternating current – to strengthen and resynchronise the brainwaves. The researchers and other scientists want to see the experiments repeated with larger groups of people in order to be certain of the results.