Current treatment options for age-related impaired cognition produce mixed results and come with a number of risks and side effects.
A new study suggests that age-related memory loss could be reversed with a 20-minute non-invasive treatment.
Researchers from Boston University published their findings in Nature Neuroscience. Their approach includes wearing a cap with electrodes that convey electrical signals into the brain, which experts believe could aid in improving memory performance.
“An increasingly older population leads to additional personal, social, healthcare and economic costs. A factor greatly contributing to these costs is the impairment in basic memory systems essential for activities of everyday life, such as making financial decisions or understanding language,” lead researcher, Robert Reinhart said.
Patients in the study received electrical brain stimulation for 20 minutes four days in a row. Every day, the patients were given a list of 20 words and asked to memorise and recite them.
Two treatment methods were tested: one for improving short-term memory with low-frequency stimulation and another for improving long-term memory with high-frequency stimulation targeting the prefrontal cortex of the brain. In a randomised double-blind trial, both methods were tested against a placebo.
The researchers discovered that after three or four days of applying low-frequency electrical signals to the brain, patients had improved short-term memory, which lasted a month.
Sending high-frequency signals into the brain improved long-term memory on day two and for a month. The researchers also discovered that people with lower cognitive function experienced greater and longer-lasting memory improvement as a result of the treatment.
“Clinically, this is important because there are people with only short-term memory problems and others with only long-term memory problems. So, having tools in hand that can address each of these memory systems is of great value,” Reinhart said.
Reinhart’s team applied the electrode treatment for one 25-minute session in a 2019 study, but patients only showed memory benefits for less than an hour before the improvements vanished. Reinhart’s treatment, on the other hand, now includes multiple days of electrical stimulation.
“In this new study, we used multiple, consecutive days of stimulation for 20 minutes to cause long-lasting memory improvements that lasted one month. Previously, the effects lasted only 50 minutes,” Reinhart said.
According to Reinhart, current treatment options for age-related impaired cognition produce mixed results and come with a number of risks and side effects.
“For those reasons, there’s an urgent need to develop innovative therapeutic interventions that can provide rapid and sustainable improvements with minimal side effects,” he said.