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Electric Brain Stimulation May Help Boost Memory In Dementia Patients

22 April 2017, 7:09 am EDT By Anu Passary Tech Times
A new study highlighted that electrical stimulation delivered to brain during its low function stage can aid memory functioning. The study emphasized the importance of stimulation timing to get the desired results.  ( University of Pennsylvania )

People affected with brain injuries or impairment often face trouble in recollecting memories and thoughts.

A group of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment to demonstrate how a pacemaker-like approach, can help reduce brain injury effects and associated problems.

The Department of Defense is funding the research and the study is part of a four-year project. The initiative aims to help people affected with traumatic brain injuries or diseases like dementia, to lead a fully functioning normal life. The program has been named Restoring Active Memory.

Many previous attempts to enhance brain memory have met with mixed results with some improving the memory, whereas others showing no results at all.

However, the latest experiment clarifies this confusion and states that the timing of the brain stimulation plays an important part.

"We all have good days and bad days, times when we're foggy, or when we're sharp. We found that jostling the system when it's in a low-functioning state can jump it to a high-functioning one," said Michael Kahana, the lead researcher of the study.

How Was The Study Conducted?

To conduct the study, the researchers collected data of 150 patients in collaboration with 20 other scientists hailing from institutions such as Mayo Clinic, Emory University, University of California, and more.

"Using recordings from neurosurgical epilepsy patients with intracranially implanted electrodes, we trained multivariate classifiers to discriminate spectral activity during learning that predicted remembering from forgetting, then decoded neural activity in later sessions in which we applied stimulation during learning," noted the researchers.

For the experiment, the researchers made the patients memorize a list of words. The participants were given different words each time and asked to freely recall as many as they could from the list.

During this study, the scientists tracked some "hot spots" in the participants' brains, which were found to have a strong connection with memory encoding. Before carrying out the stimulation, the researchers specified the basic settings for each patient's high and low functioning brain points.

Few participants memorized some of the lists through brain stimulation, whereas the control group learned the words without the help of electrode stimulations.

Does Brain Stimulation Yield Positive Results?

After a thorough statistical analysis, the researchers discovered that during a foggy or low function stage, people scored slightly higher than normal when the brain was stimulated. On the other hand, stimulation given during a high-functioning state yielded worse scores.

The researchers shared that the enhancement effect was on an average roughly 12 percent to 13 percent. Moreover, when the brain stimulation occurred "in a good state" the average was roughly 15 percent to 20 percent "worse than usual."

"We found that, when electrical stimulation arrives during periods of effective memory, memory worsens. But when the electrical stimulation arrives at times of poor function, memory is significantly improved," asserted Kahana.

It was concluded that during low functioning state, with the help of brain stimulations, individuals could memorize the words better when compared to stimulations received during a high functioning state.

The researchers are optimistic that such methods may possibly aid in decreasing dementia signs, as well as aid in combating memory loss due to head or brain injuries. However, more research needs to be conducted before the brain stimulation approach can be applied.

The study has been published in the journal Current Biology.

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