Alzheimer’s: Study discovers possible non-invasive treatment

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Researchers from Boston, USA, observed positive effects on the memory of elderly people with electrical brain stimulation

Electrical brain stimulation in the elderly improved short- and long-term memory in elderly volunteers, according to experiments carried out at Boston University, in the United States. For the researchers, the findings, published in Nature Neuroscience on Monday (22), may form the basis of new, less invasive treatments that do not involve drugs for Alzheimer’s.

To reach that conclusion, the study worked with 150 people over the age of 65 who were given 20 minutes of stimulation daily for four days and listened to a series of words, which they were asked to remember. Meanwhile, through cranial “caps” worn by the participants, the researchers directed weak alternating currents to specific regions of the brain.

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According to the results, short-term memory, indicated by immediate recall of words, improved 65% after four days and it was 40% better one month laterwithout additional stimulus.

Long-term memory, which was represented by remembering the word minutes or more after hearing it, was 50% better after four days and 37.5% better one month after the experiment, without additional electrical stimulation.

How was the study done?

The study was done with electrical stimulation directed at two brain regions: the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with long-term memory, and the parietal cortex, at the back of the brain, which is related to short-term memory. The control group underwent a “sham” or placebo procedure, in which the same cap was used, but without electrical stimulation.

Without knowing which group they were in, the participants listened to a string of 20 words, with no connection between them, read by the researchers. They examined how likely people were to recognize the most recently heard words at the end of the list (short-term memory) or at the beginning of the list (long-term memory).

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Robert Reinhart, head of the project, sees electrical brain stimulation as a possible treatment for memory loss in the elderly and particularly those who develop Alzheimer’s. “Older people with general cognitive impairment who participated in the experiment were the subjects who showed the greatest improvements both during the intervention and at the one-month point,” he told Financial Times.

For him, the results bode well for the research to be transferred to a proper clinical trial, in people with Alzheimer’s disease who suffer from more severe memory impairment.

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