Older Adults

Magnetic stimulation of the brain improves working memory, offering a new potential avenue of therapy for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to new research from the Duke University School of Medicine. Healthy younger and older adult participants who receive a therapy called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) perform better on a memory task than during an rTMS-like placebo in the study; which was publish here in PLoS One.

Manipulation of information

Working memory (WM) is a cognitive ability that allows the maintenance and manipulation of information that is retain in the mind for brief periods. Through the interface between long-term memories and moment-to-moment information available in the environment, WM allows humans to carry out successful goal direct behaviors.

As such, WM is widely involve in the achievement of complex tasks such as learning, decision making, and reasoning. Critically, decline in WM is a major factor in cognitive impairment that accompanies healthy aging This study relies on highly individualized parameters, from the selection of the stimulate target, base on fMRI activation, to the selection of the difficulty, titrate according to subjects’ performance.

Now that they have show that these specific parameters can improve performance in healthy subjects, we will be able to extend it to populations with memory deficits,” said Lysianne Beynel, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The relevant information

Working memory is the process of recalling and then using relevant information while performing a task. It’s a key component of day-to-day tasks like driving to a new location, making a recipe, or following instructions. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, which will more than double by 2050, and other forms of dementia; so experience progressive loss of working memory and other forms of cognition; hence leading to a greater risk of injury or death and reducing their ability to function without home care.

Twenty-nine young adults and 18 older adults complete the study; which involved trying to remember and then reproduce a series of letters in alphabetical order. The authors applied either online high-frequency (5Hz) rTMS, or a placebo-like sham over the left prefrontal cortex; so an area on the brain responsible for higher executive function. Participants of all ages who receive rTMS perform better than those who receive the rTMS-like placebo.

Interestingly, we only saw this effect during when participants were trying their hardest; so suggesting a real use-it-or-lose it principle at work here,” said co-author Simon W. Davis, Ph.D. “Contrary to much of what they hear;so aging brains have a remarkable capability to remember past events and to use that information in a flexible manner. The brain stimulation applied in our study shows that older adults benefited just as much as the young.”