Brain zaps in people over 60 gave them younger memory

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NEW YORK — Zapping the brains of people over 60 with a mild electrical current improved a form of memory enough that they performed like people in their 20s, a new study found.

Someday, people might visit clinics to boost that ability, which declines both in normal aging and in dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, said researcher Robert Reinhart of Boston University.

The treatment is aimed at “working memory,” the ability to hold information in mind for a matter of seconds as you perform a task, such as doing math in your head. Sometimes called the workbench or scratchpad of the mind, it’s crucial for things like taking medications, paying bills, buying groceries or planning, Reinhart said.

“It’s where your consciousness lives … where you’re working on information,” he said.

The new study is not the first to show that stimulating the brain can boost working memory. But Reinhart, who reported the work Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, said it’s notable for showing success in older people and because the memory boost persisted for nearly an hour minimum after the brain stimulation ended.

One scientist who has previously reported boosting working memory with electrical stimulation noted that the decline in this ability with normal aging is not huge. But “they removed the effects of age from these people,” said Dr. Barry Gordon, a professor of neurology and cognitive science at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

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