Researchers at Northwestern University have used a non-invasive form of magnetic brain stimulation to improve the memory of older adults. After just five short sessions the older adults scored as well as a younger cohort on a variety of memory tasks.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is one of the more promising brain stimulation techniques currently being explored by scientists. Unlike other methods, which often involve invasive surgical implantation of electrodes, TMS is non-invasive, simply firing painless magnetic pulses into specific regions of the brain. The idea is that these magnetic pulses can alter neuronal activity, and recent technological advances have allowed researchers to target regions of the brain with incredible precision and specificity.
The new Northwestern research focused on improving age-related memory loss, a common kind of cognitive decline associated with normal aging. To do this the scientists first homed in on the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory and known to atrophy as we age.
“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 neighbor’s name,” explains lead on the study, Joel Voss. “Older adults often complain about having trouble with this.”