A new technology could come to the rescue of people who are suffering either short-term or long-term memory loss. Even more exciting, it can restore memory in a way that’s fast, safe, non-invasive, and free of side effects.
Experts describe the most recent findings using the new technique as “extremely promising,” “quite remarkable,” “very exciting,” and “impressive.”
Here’s the story…
Neuroscientists from Boston University examined how brainwaves in two key areas of the brain can lose harmony with each other, impairing the brain’s ability to recall short-term information.
Bringing these brainwaves back into harmony using electrical stimulation restored lost memory in clinical tests. Not only that, according to lead researcher Robert Reinhart, the electrical stimulation treatment “…made the brain of a 70-year-old look like that of a 20-year-old.”
For the latest study Dr. Reinhart and his research group went much further, using a new technology called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation.
Two Different Frequencies Targeted Two Areas
The Boston team enrolled 120 men and women aged 65 to 88 to take part in a randomized double-blind study. None were diagnosed with memory problems, but some reported their memories were not as good as they used to be.
They fitted each participant with a cap containing electrodes. Then they divided the participants into various groups to receive either sham treatment, electrical stimulation to improve memory (active group) or electrical stimulation not expected to improve memory (placebo group).
A further group of 30 participants served as a control group.
Over four consecutive days, the research team asked participants to recall five lists of 20 words read to them while they received electrical stimulation or sham treatment.
The two frequencies used in the active group included theta waves – slow waves with a frequency of 4 Hz – targeting the inferior parietal lobule of the brain, which is involved with working memory. Working memory is considered the short-term information that we hold temporarily.
The second frequency was gamma waves – fast waves of 60 Hertz – which were targeted at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the long-term memory area that holds information for days or years.
The results on mental recall were remarkable…
Memory Improved Up To 65 Percent
“We found electrical stimulation improved memory by 50 to 65 percent, which translates to recalling four to six words more by the end of the four-day intervention, as compared to the group receiving the placebo,” explained Professor Reinhart.
“After four consecutive days, each consisting of only 20 minutes of stimulation, we could cause memory improvements that last for at least one month.
“Low-frequency electrode activity improved working memory on day three and day four and one month after intervention. On the other hand, high-frequency improved long-term memory on days two through four and one month after intervention. Our findings demonstrate that the plasticity of the aging brain can be selectively and sustainably altered using these two treatments.”
Professor Reinhart and his colleagues also noted that they saw the greatest improvements in individuals who reported the poorest cognitive function.
Targeted Memory Treatment
When asked what the real-world implications are for these findings, Professor Reinhart responded, saying, “Existing therapeutic approaches for impaired cognition are limited by mixed treatment outcomes, slow improvement, and accompanying risks and side effects. For those reasons, there’s an urgent need to develop innovative therapeutic interventions that can provide rapid and sustainable improvements with minimal side effects.
“Clinically, this is important because there are people with only short-term memory problems and others with only long-term memory problems. So, having tools in hand that can address each of these memory systems is of great value.”
Memory Experts Are Impressed
Dr. Nir Grossman, dementia researcher at Imperial College London, said, “The study’s outcome provides encouraging early-stage evidence of a potential interventional strategy to improve memory performance.”
Dr. Masud Husain, Professor of Neurology & Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Oxford, said, “These are very exciting results. They replicated these findings in a completely different set of participants which is impressive…this improvement in memory ability was detectable one month after stimulation which is quite remarkable.”
Dr. David McGonigle, Lecturer in Neuroimaging and Neurostimulation, Cardiff University, Wales, commented, “This is an extremely promising piece of work. Suppose it’s possible to extend the memory retention period beyond one month? In that case, this kind of treatment may soon be a viable, non-pharmacological means to fight memory loss in old age.”
And Professor Tara Spires-Jones, from the UK Dementia Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said, “This is promising work, and it shows how amazingly flexible and adaptable the brain is.”
While I’m certainly no doctor, I too am excited by the findings. I’ll continue to follow this research and keep you posted on any new discoveries.