An investigation published this Monday, August 22 in Nature Neuroscience, realizes that 20 minutes of electrical current applied to the brains of older adults increases their memory capacity.
The brain stimulation performed in this study came from a device similar to a swimming cap studded with electrodes placed to deliver electrical current to specific areas of the brain. The research team was interested in two main areas: one that is linked to working memory (which holds information temporarily and overlaps with short-term memory) and one that is linked to long-term memory.
The research team divided 60 participants between the ages of 65 and 88 into three groups: one group used the device but received no electrical stimulation; the second received stimulation in the region associated with working memory; and the third received stimulation in the area associated with long-term memory.
For four consecutive days, participants received the treatment (or sham treatment) while performing a memory task where they were read a list of 20 words and asked to recall them. The researchers looked to see how often they remembered the words at the top of the list (long-term memory) and at the bottom of the list (working memory).
Both working and long-term memory improved over the four days, the study found. “We looked at how improvements in memory accumulated over time with each passing day,” study author Robert Reinhart, a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, said during a news conference. And the participants still had a better memory a month later.
Electrical stimulation likely helps improve brain growth and change in areas that are important for memory, study author Shrey Grover, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at Boston University, said during the briefing. “Our brains are plastic and can be changed as we learn,” he says.