PAINLESS brain stimulation has successfully reversed memory loss in OAPs, a study shows.
The groundbreaking technique could one day help halt the effects of dementia, researchers hope.
Getty – Contributor Painless electric currents to the brain can help reverse memory loss – and could one day be used to treat dementia, scientists have revealed
Fixing faulty circuits
It uses mild electrical current to reconnect “faulty circuits” in the brain.
In early trials, scientists from Boston University managed to boost working memory in older participants to match those of people in their 20s.
Working memory is needed for problem-solving, reasoning, and decision making.
The effect lasted at least 50 minutes after treatment, but scientists suspect the improvement continues for hours.
Paving the way for new treatments
Lead researcher Robert Reinhart said brain power loss is a normal part of ageing.
And claims it may be due to specific brain circuits becoming disconnected – something the new technique helps tackle.
Prof Reinhart said: “These findings are important – because they not only give us new insights…but they also show us that the negative age-related changes [to the brain] are not unchangeable.
“We can bring back more the superior working memory function that you had when you were much younger.
“Working memory deficit…is really central to many brain disorders from schizophrenia, autism to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our hope is this work will help lay the basic science groundwork for an entirely new avenue of research where we develop non-invasive tools to help treat [these] people.”
1m Brits have dementia
Around 850,000 Brits currently have dementia – and the figure is expected to hit one million within a decade.
There is currently no cure, although some drugs can limit the symptoms.
The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, involved 84 participants. Half were in their 20s and half in their 60s and 70s.
Scientists tested their working memory before and after 25-minutes of electrical stimulation, using caps with embedded electrodes.
They tailored the treatment to each individual’s “sweet spot” based on the frequency of their brain waves.
The team found older adults’ working-memory improved to resemble that of younger adults as a result.
Commenting on the study, Dr Vladimir Litvak, from the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging at University College London, said: “This is an interesting and exciting study showing that non-invasive brain stimulation can improve the performance in a task testing working memory in healthy older adults and bring it to a range comparable with younger people.”
But there was no evidence the technique boosted older people’s recall – which is affected by Alzheimer’s.
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Dr Litvak also cautioned the participants were all healthy, so it is unclear whether brain stimulation could counteract the damage done by dementia.
Commenting on the study, Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We can’t cure, prevent or even slow down dementia so it’s vital we explore all possible areas for treatments.
“This study is interesting because it suggests this non-invasive technique using electrical stimulation may improve the working memory of older people.
“However, this research didn’t look at whether this might also be helpful for people with dementia.”
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