When you take into account the devastating effect that dementia has on our elderly population there can be no doubt that having a well-functioning memory is one of the keys to happiness and mental well-being.
Memory loss is an issue associated with a number of ailments, diseases, and problems that plague the elderly community, and it shouldn’t come as no shock, that a number of the most promising scientific advancements in recent times revolve around harnessing the power of a person’s memory to enhance their quality of life.
Two recent studies that utilised different techniques to stimulate the brain, have managed to restored working memory and reversed age-related memory loss in people aged in their 70’s.
These techniques were so successful, that the performance from the elderly test subjects on memory tasks that followed their initial treatments were equal to the performance of people aged in their 20’s.
The first study took place at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where researchers used a non-invasive procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to stimulate the brains of 16 elderly people aged 64 – 80, who were living with age-related memory problems.
In this experiment, elderly participants and a younger control group competed against one another in a series of memory-related tasks involving pairing objects on a computer screen.
On average, younger adults scored close to 55% of their answers correct, while the older adults averaged less than 40% correct answers.
Following the testing, the older adults underwent the non-invasive TMS procedure which uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells.
This stimulation was done for 20 minutes a day over a five day period, and only 24 hours after the final day of treatment, the older test subjects were then asked to complete a new memory test involving similar challenges to the tests done before their treatment.
Unbelievably, the older test subjects memory testing scores were now virtually identical to the scores of the younger control group, meaning that these people with an average age in the 70’s now had the same memory abilities as a 20-year-old.
In an interview with The Newdaily, Joel Voss, associate professor and lead author of a study at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, shared his thoughts on the findings of the study.
“Older people’s memory got better up to the level that we could no longer tell them apart from younger people,” he said.
The next step in this study will be to test this same approach on participants living with the kind of mild cognitive impairment that occurs in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
A second test that yielded similar results was also published recently as researchers from Boston University found that electro-stimulation can actually have the same effects on older people’s memories as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) did in the previous study.
In this study, researchers used electrical currents to non-invasively stimulate the brain which also drastically improved the performance of the people partaking in memory testing.
People in their 20s and a group in their 60s and 70s played a ‘same or different?’ memory game where they would have a chance to look at a specific image and then view a second similar image and make the determination whether both pictures were exactly the same or slightly different.
As expected, the group aged in their 20s significantly outperformed the older people who were involved in the testing, but that started to change drastically once the older adults began to receive 25-minute stints of mild stimulation that were tuned to individual circuits within their brains.
The electro-stimulation completely eliminated the gap in memory testing performance between the younger and older groups, and the positive effects of the 25-minute procedure lasted the full duration of the 50-minute test.
Although these test results are obviously very exciting for older people, it should be noted that they are not the only age group that may benefit significantly from this type of memory stimulation.
Young-adult participants who performed poorly in the memory testing despite their younger age, also showed significant improvement in their memory when treated with electro stimulation.
Unfortunately, the effects of both the electro-stimulation and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) were not permanent for the test subjects involved, but such a significant boost in memory and brain function is a great indication that science is slowly continually edging closer to fully understanding and treating memory affecting diseases like dementia.
Memory loss can have crippling effects on an older person’s mental health and ability to adapt and grow in new environments.
Making friends can be hard enough as you get older, but imagine trying to form meaningful relationships when you’re struggling to retain new information and have a slowly fading grasp of who yourself once were.
Hopefully, the results of this study prove to be the catalyst for further discoveries that lead to improved treatment and better lifestyles for older people.