Brain Stimulation May Reduce Memory Decline

A jolt of electricity could be all that is necessary to boost memory function in the aging brain.  This is the idea a new study out of Boston University set out to investigate.  Apparently, this study suggests that a little zap to the brain, in people over the age of 60, with just a mild electrical current has the potentially restore some functions of memory nearly equivalent to that of a healthy 20-year-old brain.

According to Boston University neuroscientist Robert Reinhart, “Age-related changes are not unchangeable.  We can bring back the superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger.”

While this is certainly not the first study to show a relationships between electric brain stimulation and memory function, the lead study author says the results are more notable because the stimulation appeared to have more lasting effects than in previous studies. 

“We’re seeing the largest improvements in people with the greatest deficits at baseline,” Reinhart adds. “That really bodes well for clinical work in people with these types of cognitive brain disorders.”

But even though these results are the most exciting so far, Professor Robert Howard cautions that the improvements demonstrated with working memory may be incomplete.  The University College London professor of old age psychiatry comments it may not be wise to simply accept uncritical assumption of clinical benefit.  Indeed, he notes, “The findings need to be replicated under clinical trial conditions, with larger numbers of participants and with robust blinding of subjects and outcome assessors.”

He goes on to say that we need to evaluate the  real-world benefits in experimental working memory function improvements associated with this particular technique also requires a more comprehensive evaluation in conjunction with the impact of possible side effects to brain stimulation. 

“For example,” he cautions, “induced improvements in working memory might come at the price of worsening of other areas of cognitive function.”

Surely this type of intervention is still relatively new; so the results are somewhat novel.  But the excitement at the possibility for its viability will certainly lead to more research and, hopefully, thorough development that can assure not only its efficacy but its safety as well. 

The study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.