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Electricity Can Help Reverse Effects Of Aging On Memory

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Failing memory comes with age, everyone knows that. But a new study suggests that memory decline can be improved through electrical pulses.

To date, there is no known cure for severe brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and dementia. However, that may well change in the future.

A new research published in Nature Neuroscience on Monday claims that memory decline in aging can be improved. The study was performed by Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist at Boston University, and doctoral student John Nguyen.

Working Memory

"Age-related changes are not unchangeable," says Reinhart. "We can bring back the superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger."

To achieve the results, Reinhart and Nguyen focused on working memory, a highly essential aspect of cognition which is responsible for holding information short-term. This is incredibly useful when doing common tasks such as reading, conversing, or doing arithmetic.

According to scientists, a person's working memory gradually decreases its function as they age. This commonly happens even without having any symptoms of dementia. One of the main factors of this is the gradual disconnection of two major brain networks called temporal and prefrontal regions.

Boosting The Brain

Forty-two healthy adults without any cognitive or brain problems ages 20 to 29 and 42 older adults ages 60 to 76 were recruited to participate in the study. The experiment was just a basic "find the differences game," in which two similar pictures were shown to them in a screen in succession and they have to figure out what's different in the second picture.

While doing the activity, the participants' brain activities were measured using an electroencephalogram. The researchers first did the task without any brain simulation, and the results showed that the older group of participants performed less well on the activity.

After the first phase, the researchers gave the older group 25 minutes of non-invasive brain simulation. This involved passing gentle pulses of electricity through the scalp and into the brain to effectively synchronize the two target brain regions.

The results were astonishing, as it was shown that the working memory of the older group improved drastically and even matched those of the younger group. The effect seemed to last 50 minutes after the experiment, and even those who scored the lowest on the activity improved just as well as the others.

"These findings are important because they not only give us new insights into the brain basis for age-related working-memory decline, but they also show us that the negative age-related changes are not unchangeable," says Reinhart.

Treatment For Brain Disorders

Walter Paulus and Zsolt Turi, both clinical neurophysiologists at the University Medical Center Göttingen, were impressed with the results of the study, and they said that it could be the future of treating severe brain disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's, and schizophrenia.

However, bigger studies should be done before this "brain-synchronization technique" can be applied clinically. It is not yet known whether this technique has any side effects on the human body, but it is still a promising start for treating forms of dementia.

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