Researchers from Duke University School of Medicine have found that magnetic brain stimulation can help improve working memory. They studied repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), showing that it improved memory task performance in all ages of adults. Given that individuals with Alzheimer’s will more than double by 2050, rTMS may be a potential form of therapy to help improve memory.
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The researchers utilized a commercially available transcranial magnetic stimulation device, which uses high intensity magnetic pulses to depolarize neurons in a specific region of the brain. TMS has been used in patients with psychiatric disorders, including depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, but its applications are probably much more wide-ranging.
This study involved a cohort of healthy young adults (18-35 years old) and healthy older adults (60-80 years old). Study participants arrived for multiple visits and underwent rTMS stimulation while performing a memory task called the “delayed-response alphabetization task (DRAT).” DRAT works by momentarily showing participants a few letters and asking them to repeat the letters they saw in alphabetical order. The researchers found that both younger and older adults that had rTMS stimulation while performing the DRAT task had better performance than those who did not receive stimulation. Surprisingly, the performance boost was only seen for the hardest DRAT tasks, indicating a “use-it-or-lose-it” principle may be at play.