Joanita Wibowo


Memory loss? Here's how you can reverse it

Memory loss? Here's how you can reverse it

Memory loss has been a longstanding concern amongst the ageing community. However, two new studies have shown that it is possible to restore working memory and reverse age-related memory impairment.

The two studies, conducted separately by Boston University and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, found that people in their 60s and 70s can boost their brain function through various methods of stimulation.

Following the experiments, the memory of the older people in both studies was boosted to a level that was indistinguishable from that of younger adults.

“Older people’s memory got better up to the level that we could no longer tell them apart from younger people,” said Joel Voss, associate professor and lead author of the Northwestern study.

In the Northwestern research, to be published in the Neurology journal, 16 people aged 64 to 80 with normal age-related memory problems underwent Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). The method was aimed at stimulating the hippocampus, a part of the brain which is involved in the formation of new memories.

“It’s the part of the brain that links two unrelated things together into a memory, like the place you left your keys or your new neighbour’s name,” said Voss. In older people, the hippocampus tends to atrophy and shrink, resulting in memory decline.

After the stimulation was applied for 20 minutes a day for five consecutive days, the participants’ performance in memory tasks improved to the level of young adults.

Meanwhile for the Boston University study published in Nature Neuroscience, a group of people in their 60s and 70s was tested with a memory game against a group of people in their 20s.

At baseline, the younger group outperformed the older group significantly – however, after the latter received 25 minutes of mild electro-stimulation tuned to their individual brain circuits, “the difference between the two groups vanished.” The effect lasted at least until the experiment ended, or 50 minutes after the stimulation.

The benefits of the stimulation are not limited to older people – some younger adults who performed poorly on the game also gained better results after getting the same treatment.

According to the researchers, this is because the electrical currents helped neural circuits in the brain find their rhythm back and become more coordinated.

“We showed that the poor performers who were much younger, in their 20s, could also benefit from the same exact kind of stimulation,” said Robert Reinhart, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University and lead author of the study. “We could boost their working memory even though they weren’t in their 60s or 70s.”

While the results are promising, it is yet to be seen whether these approaches can be applied more widely to help more people with age-related cognitive decline.