Applying mild electric shocks to the brain can reverse memory loss in older people, a study suggests.
Scientists at Boston University in the US found that stimulating the working memory part of the brain with electric currents can help reconnect circuits that have become faulty due to ageing.
The study involved 42 younger adults aged 20 to 29 and 42 older adults aged 60 to 76, who were all assessed for their performance in a “spot the differences” task.
Working memory, which declines over time, is where people store information for a short period to carry out immediate tasks such as maths, reading, recalling shopping lists and decision-making.
Experts found that without the electric shocks to the brain, the older people were much slower and less accurate than the younger group.
However, with the stimulation through scalp electrodes, their scores matched those of their juniors in their 20s.
The effect lasted for at least 50 minutes after the stimulation, said Robert Reinhart, who co-led the study.
The research is at an early stage and only relates to healthy volunteers, but could point to new ways to boost brain function in people with age-related cognitive decline, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.
“Much more basic science has to be done first,” said Mr Reinhart.
“It’s opening up a whole new avenue of potential research and treatment options.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
There are around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, and the number is set to rise to more than one million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.