Electric zapping key brain areas responsible for learning and memory in senior citizens could improve both functions, according to a recent study.
Shooting electrical current into the brain of seniors for just 25 minutes reversed the decline in working memory that comes with aging. These results offer hope for boosting a mental function that is crucial for reasoning, problem-solving, and quality of life.
Electric Zapping: Study Results
Boston University scientists tested the working memories of 42 younger adults (aged 20 to 29) and 42 senior citizens ( aged 60 to 76).
All participants were shown an image of an object. Three seconds later they were shown either the same image or an image of another object. They were asked if they had seen it before.
The older adults correctly answered 80% of the time, while the younger people were at 90%. Throughout testing, EEGs monitored every participants brainwaves. The brain waves of the senior citizens showed significantly less synchronization of brain oscillations.
Next, The younger group received sham stimulation, they wore a cap with electrodes but no current. The older adults got the real electric stimulation with AC current. The AC current frequency was tuned to the individual brain, matching its natural oscillations so as to synchronize brain waves. This is important because as people age, brain wave synchronous activity falls out of sync.
Results showed that older adults’ accuracy improved immediately and reached 90%. This score was maintained for up to 50 minutes after the brain stimulation ended. The EEG’s of the seniors showed brain waves with the same degree of synchrony as in the younger group.
Electric Zapping: Implications
Electric zapping of key brain areas is based on previous evidence that oscillations of specific frequencies are necessary for working memory. Cells that synchronize their activity transfer information to brain areas responsible for working memory.
Other labs have also shown that electrical stimulation of the brain can improve memory. In a 2018 study, brain stimulation in epileptics improved their memory by 15%.
Another study reported that electrodes implanted in the hippocampus — improved short and long-term memory by 35% in eight people with epilepsy.
Looking ahead, it would be interesting to assess the effect that electric brain stimulation has on memory of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.