Boston: Zapping the brains of people over 60 with a mild electrical current can improve a form of memory — enough to make them perform like 20-year-olds — scientists say. Someday, people might visit clinics to boost that ability, which declines both in normal ageing and in dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, said Robert Reinhart, researcher at Boston University in the US.
The treatment is aimed at “working memory,” the ability to hold information in mind for a matter of seconds as you perform a task, such as doing math in your head. Sometimes called the workbench or scratchpad of the mind, it’s crucial for things like taking medications, paying bills, buying groceries or planning, Reinhart said in a statement. “It’s a superb first step” toward demonstrating a way to improve mental performance, said Barry Gordon, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. The electrical current was administered through a tight-fitting cap that also monitored each subject’s brainwaves.
The results provided new evidence that a breakdown in that communication causes the loss of working memory with age, Reinhart said. Part of the study included 42 participants in their 20s, plus 42 others aged 60 to 76. First they were tested on a measure of working memory. The subjects had to judge whether it was the same image or not. During a sham stimulation, the older group was less accurate than the younger participants. However, during and after 25 minutes of real brain
stimulation, they did as well. —PTI