It is well known that memory "gaps" occurs in the older generation, but just recently, scientists say that electrical pulses directed to the brain can temporarily reverse the weakening of memory. "Age-related changes are not unchangeable," said Robert Reinhart, a neuroscientist who led the work at Boston University. "We can bring back the superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger."
Reinhart's study fixated on "working memory", that part of the brain responsible for short-term memory while we try to make decisions, perform calculations, and perform any other activity that requires temporary storage in the brain. Working memory is said to steadily decline with age, even without dementia, or any related illnesses. Reinhart looks at the disconnection between the prefrontal and the temporal regions of the brain as a reason for this decline in working memory.
In the study a total of 84 people were assessed, half of which aging from 20 years old to 29 years old and the other half aged 60 through 76. The older group were observed to be slower and less accurate on the working memory tests. After a first test, the subjects were exposed to non-invasive brain stimulation for 25 minutes. After the said stimulation, the working memory of the older adults was seen to have improved to match the younger group. This effect lasted for about 50 minutes after the stimulation, with the people scoring the worst the first time showing the largest improvements.
In young people, the two regions are steadily synchronized, which scientists think allows information to be exchanged between the two areas of the brain. However, in older people, activity tends to be less synchronized, which may be a result of the deterioration of the long-range nerve interconnections in the different parts of the brain. But after electrical stimulation, working memory in older adults is proven to be temporarily improved and nearly matched the younger group's results. "We're seeing the largest improvements in people with the greatest deficits at baseline," said Reinhart. "That really bodes well for clinical work in people with these types of cognitive brain disorders."
However, the study has not been completely accepted in the world of cognitive science. Robert Howard, a professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, voiced his opinion saying that improvements in working memory seen in the tests may come with a price. "I would caution against any uncritical assumption that this will translate into clinical benefit," he said.
But not everyone is so skeptical. Dardo Tomasi, a scientist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda said, "This is an important finding that can lead to future development of alternative interventions ... for dementia."
Adjusting and modifying the circuitry of the brain with technology holds new and exciting possibilities for the research for dementia. Deep-brain stimulation, a surgical procedure used in Parkinson's, is proof of principle that this approach may one day be fruitful for dementia.