Brain stimulation could help improve memory for older adults, study finds
Memory decline is an unfortunate but natural part of the aging process and not always indicative of a more serious condition like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Still, memory decline can still certainly make day to day life difficult. But researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine may have found a potential treatment for reversing age-related memory decline in a new study published in the journal Neurology.
The team found that stimulating the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory decline, of older adults improved memory to such a degree that older adults scored the same as younger groups in memory tests.
“Older people’s memory got better up to the level that we could no longer tell them apart from younger people,” said Joel Voss, a lead investigator of the study. “They got substantially better.”
16 participants, aged 64 to 80, took part in the study and the researchers used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to target the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is where connections are made and form a memory, according to the researchers.
“It’s the part of the brain that links two unrelated things together into a memory, like the place you left your keys or your new neighbor’s name,” said Voss. “Older adults often complain about having trouble with this.”
In older adults, the hippocampus is smaller, and the researchers applied the magnetic stimulation to a spot above the left ear by the parietal lobe which communicates directly with the hippocampus.
“We stimulated where brain activity is synchronized to the hippocampus, suggesting that these regions talk to each other,” said Aneesha Nilakantan, the first author of the study.
Before going through the TMS therapy, participants both young and old were asked to complete memory tasks to assess memory ability. The participants had to learn relationships between paired items and later recall these pairings.
Older adults remembered less than 40 percent of the correct pairings.
Next, the older adults had repetitive high-frequency stimulation applied to the same spot for 20 minutes a day, five days in a row.
After the five days of treatment, the participants were tasked with a new memory test, and scores were the same regardless of age.
Next, the researchers want to test how TMS impacts the memory of participants in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.