How Electrically Stimulating The Brains Of Older Adults Can Increase Memory

December 23, 2022

mental health, Memory

Zapping your brain with an electrical current might conjure up scary visions of Frankenstein’s monster, but scientists actually are using mild electrical stimulation directed at different parts of the brain in an attempt to restore memory in older adults. Before we look at exactly what the results were, let's get a memory refresh!

First of all, what is memory exactly? One definition says that memory is simply your body’s ability to recall information that has come to it in the past. These memories can range from your ability to recall what you had for dinner last evening, to detailed knowledge from school, to a special event such as the birth of a child or a wedding.

These memories are stored in various parts of your brain depending on how they are categorized. Long term memories such as events that happened long ago or skills you need to recall to do your job are stored in the hippocampus. Short term memories, such as that phone number you just looked up, last only about 30 second,s and are stored in the prefrontal cortex. Most researchers consider working memory to be nearly identical to short-term memory, but working memories last somewhat longer than short-term memories so you can complete a necessary task.

Now let’s go back to the study. A team at Boston University enrolled people who were between the ages of 65 and 88 and gave their brains something called tACS for 20 minutes for 4 consecutive days through electrodes attached to their scalps. tASC stands for transcranial alternating current stimulation and is non-invasive and painless.

While the participants were getting tACS they were asked to recall a list of 20 words that were read aloud to them by one of the researchers. The people who got tACS to their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex showed an increased ability to remember words from the start of the list, signifying an improvement in long term memory. Participants who received tACS to the inferior parietal lobe of the brain were more easily able to recall words from the end of the list, signifying an improvement in working memory.

One of the fascinating things about this study is that these memory gains were still present a full month after the brain stimulation had taken place. When you think about it, this sort of treatment makes sense, as all communication within the brain takes place via electrical impulses.

Although this is a very early study, the positive results could have huge implications for treatment of disorders in which loss of memory is a prominent feature, such as Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In addition, the research team is hopeful this will lead to treatments for improved cognnition in people who suffer from schizophrenia, and also to a treatment that will reduce the debilitating symptoms of anxiety.

In the meantime, keep your brain sharp by consuming a diet in these foods proven to support a healthy brain: cold water fatty fish such as salmon and sardines, antioxidant rich blueberries, anti-inflammatory rich turmeric, and anti-oxidant rich broccoli, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and nuts.

Another good dietary addition is oranges, rich in natural Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that can fight brain cell damaging free radicals. Eggs contain choline, a nutrient necessary for your body to make brain neurotransmitters and are also a great source of B vitamins and protein. Finally,  L-theanine rich green tea can boost your brain as well, by helping you remain alert and relaxed without making you feel sleepy. Plus green tea doesn't give you a caffeine buzz like coffee does.

Adequate good quality sleep, sufficient exercise, plus the dietary choices outlined above can go a long way in preserving your memory, so perhaps zapping your brain won’t be necessary!

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