Gentle Brain Stimulation Improves Short-Term Memory

By synchronizing brainwaves, this therapy reversed age-related memory decline

Electrical stimulation was once a last resort for the brain. Electroconvulsive therapy, for example, was developed to treat severe depression only after other therapies had failed.

But times change and now we find ourselves in the era of gentle, non-invasive brain stimulation. Electrodes on the scalp have been shown to safely nudge the brain with soft jolts of electricity and are being tested to treat Alzheimer’s disease, alleviate obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even boost memory storage.

In a paper published today in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Boston University show that electrical stimulation can also improve working memory—our ability to briefly store information while thinking, reasoning, or problem solving. Called the “sketchpad of the mind,” working memory is a linchpin of human consciousness, and it declines as we age.

After a 25-minute stimulation session involving synchronizing brain waves between two frontal areas of the brain, adults aged 60 to 76 showed marked improvements in working memory tasks—to the point that they performed on par with younger adults.

“We can reconnect, or resynchronize, those faulty brain circuits in the brains of the elderly and then rapidly boost their working memory function,” said study author Robert Reinhart, during a press briefing about the work.

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