Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Brain stimulation and spatial memory

There have been media reports recently about how electrically stimulating the brain can improve memory.

More specifically, a small study, that should be interpreted with caution found that, in patients being prepared for surgery to counter epilepsy, electrical stimulation of the entorhinal cortex improved spatial memory. This improvement was measured by having the patients drive a virtual taxi on a computer and evaluating how well they remembered different routes with and without stimulation.

Mo Costandi analyses the study in The Guardian and explains:
"Since this effect occurs during the learning phase, it seems that electrical stimulation of the entorhinal region facilitates encoding of the spatial memories, and the researchers suggest that it does so by resetting low frequency theta oscillations, which optimizes memory formation by synchronizing electrical activity of the cells needed."
I commented on one report as follows:

This is interesting, but is there a connection between the stimulation of the applied electrical signals and simply exercising the brain through using the memory?

As I approach fifty, I've thought my memory was getting worse. However, since reading recently of people who can remember every day of their lives I decided to remember every day going forward. A couple of months in, this seems to be working and seems to be having a wider impact. I'm blogging about the experience here:

Although something that helps people with medical problems is to be welcomed, I wonder whether this electrical stimulation of the memory is like those machines that twitch your muscles to tone you up so you don't actually have to do exercise.

After all, real taxi drivers have been found to undergo changes to their brains as they memorise routes, as the BBC reported in December 2011.

Reference: Suthana, N., et al. (2012). Memory Enhancement and Deep-Brain Stimulation of the Entorhinal Area. N. Engl. J. Med. 366: 502-10.

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