Can Brain Stimulation Enhance Memory?

Have you ever struggled to recall something routine or catch yourself forgetting why you walked in a room or where you put something? Or maybe you’ve been feeling the effects of a little brain fog? Forgetting things from time to time is normal but what should you do if your forgetfulness becomes more than the occasional oversight? And are there ways to combat memory loss, especially as we age? Yes, there are.

Our memories help to define us. They tell the stories of our lives, who we have connected with and what we have experienced. As such, memory-loss can be very difficult. So why do some people remain sharp through the years while others begin to lose memories? Well, genetics play a role but so do lifestyle choices. Following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar in check are all important pieces to living a healthy lifestyle. Just as we can exercise and condition other muscles in our bodies to grow stronger, we can do so with the brain. Are certain types of brain exercises more effective than others? Some researchers think so.

While researchers have long been studying if you can change behaviors or improve performance by stimulating neurons in the brain, one study, recently published in the journal Nature Communications goes a step further in making a version of this a reality, by activating neurons while participants carry out a memory task. Although the study is preliminary, it does point to some interesting possibilities for people whose memories are failing. The team worked with people who had epilepsy, since they already had electrodes implanted in their brains to monitor it. They had the participants memorize a list of words, during which a computer monitored their brain activity and learned to predict, based on brain patterns, when a new word wasn’t sinking in. Then the participants again learned a list of words, but now the computer would not only predict when they were about to have a memory lapse but give them a small electrical pulse at these times to correct it. Similar to a pacemaker for the heart here, the device predicts and adjusts electrical activity in the brain. At the end of the test word recall improved by about 15%, which is not insignificant when it comes to memory function.

And this research is being used in many applications. Sponsored by the Department of Defense, the Restoring Active Memory program is using the same technology to address the effects of traumatic brain injury in our military service members.

One thing is certain, we all experience memory lapses, and most are simply part of the aging process and nothing to worry about. However, if you have an underlying condition or if your memory problems are beginning to worry you, reach out to your health care professional. There are many safe and effective programs that do not rely on drugs or invasive techniques to address memory loss. And in the meantime, try some brain games or learn a new skill to activate your amazing brain.


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