Magnetic Brain Stimulation Can be Used to Improve Memory
According to a study, low-frequency magnetic stimulation of a specific brain area improves the generation of new memories of life events, known as episodic memory. Although the ability to produce new memories reduces with age, brain injury and diseases like Alzheimer’s can cause severe and catastrophic episodic memory loss.
Some prescription medications can assist patients with Alzheimer’s disease in enhancing their memory. Nootropics are non-prescription supplements that can improve memory to some extent. However, there we still need more research.
Using magnetic pulses, a group of researchers led by the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom may have discovered a whole new technique to increase episodic memory. The pulses were delivered to the left side of the participants’ foreheads, across an area known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), using an established technique known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).
The memory-enhancing effect appears to be confirmed in a second study by the same researchers. Their findings were published in the journal PLOS Biology.
The researchers collected data from 40 healthy volunteers who were challenged to learn word lists while stimulated with rTMS at one hertz (Hz) (one pulse per second). Half of the volunteers had pulses delivered to their left DLPFC, whereas the other half had pulses delivered to the vertex, a non-memory-related brain area.
Those who had their left DLPFC magnetically activated performed much better in a subsequent test memorizing the words.
The scientists repeated the experiment to rule out that one group had greater recall skills than the other. This time, in independent trials, 24 volunteers got magnetic stimulation of the DLPFC followed by stimulation of the vertex, or the other way around.
The scientists employed EEG to detect electrical activity in the individuals’ brains at the same time. When the DLPFC was activated during memory, the volunteers remembered considerably more words.
The slow magnetic pulses appeared to diminish the power of beta frequency brain waves over a portion of the brain termed the parietal cortex on an EEG readout. The findings could be helpful for Alzheimer’s patients who lose their ability to generate episodic memories over time.
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