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Reversing Age-Related Memory Loss

Brain—Hippocampus

Memory Problem with Aging

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a clinical diagnosis that a doctor makes when a patient has memory problems that are noticed by the patient or other people. These changes are usually not serious enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss occurs in approximately 15% to 20% of people 65 or older.

Mild forgetfulness is typical for most people 65 or older, and that is not MCI. Misplacing things or forgetting a name is a normal part of aging. The difference for MCI is you forget appointments, recent conversations or you may be unable to make a sound decision.

Older Woman

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Reversing Memory Loss

Researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL are leading the new technology to reverse memory loss. Joel Voss, a professor at this university, is leading a team of researchers using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a noninvasive form that stimulates the brain. TMS has long been used to treat depression. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008.

Voss uses TMS as a pulsing stimulation for the hippocampus in the brain, which uses strong magnetic fields. The hippocampus shrinks during aging. Prior research has shown the hippocampus to be linked to age-related memory loss. The hippocampus is that section of the brain that connect two unrelated things, such as, not remembering where you left your key or maybe you do not remember the name of a new neighbor. Many older people complain or even joke about walking in a room for something and not remembering what they went to get the room.

Rewiring the Brain Circuits with Direct Magnetic Stimulation

Study Facts

This clinical study only used 16 adults ranging from 64 to 80 years of age.MRI studies and a functional TMI was used to find the hippocampus on each participant. The magnetic fields do not reach deep enough inside the brain to reach the hippocampus, therefore, the superficial brain is targeted in the parietal lobe that connects to the hippocampus. This is an indirect method, but it works.

The researchers stimulated the brain activity that is synchronized to the hippocampus. A high-frequency magnetic stimulation was used for 20 minutes for 5 consecutive days. The participants had their memories tested before and after this 5 day treatment. Standard memory tests were used. Remembering random associations between a large variety of things, like words, places and objects.

Younger adults at age 55 tend to get all of these associations right, while older adults often score below 40%. The senior participants achieved scores as high as younger adults after this 5 day treatment. These are amazing results.

The researchers plan to test participants that already have MCI in the near future.

No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.

— Abraham Lincoln

Possible Side Effects of TMS

TMS does not require any anesthesia, so it is well tolerated. TMS has most often been used for people with depression who have not responded to medications. The treatment for depression is done daily over a 4-6 week period of time.

Facial spasms or tingling, lightheadedness and headaches are the most common side effects after treatment, but they are not an ongoing problem. A very rare side effect is seizures, so someone with epilepsy or a history of a head injury would not be an appropriate patient for this treatment.

Brain Change

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Activities to Challenge your Brain

There are several ways to train you brain to prolong the aging process. Some activities are just a matter of doing an every activity differently, such as, brush your teeth with the other hand.

Some activities for mental health include:

  1. Take a class at a local college or at the senior center
  2. Use puzzles and games for entertainment
  3. Write an article or fictional story
  4. Eat healthy
  5. Avoid drugs that slow the brain if possible
  6. Get enough sleep
  7. Pursue social activities, whatever nourishes the soul
  8. Be active with at least mild exercise
  9. Use constructive ways to reduce stress
  10. Use mentally challenging games, possible something like BrainHQ and Lumosity (I am not endorsing these two games, but if you enjoy challenging games these are 2 possibilities)

Closer Look at Transcranial Direct Magnetic Stimulation

Conclusions

This study proved that TMS helped improve memory for at least 24 hours after the end of the study. We don’t know if this effect lasts over a longer period of time.

MRI’s were done before and after the study. The TMS treatments actually caused the brain to be move synchronized with the hippocampus and each other. When the synchronicity or connectivity is improved, memory tests show improved results.

This is interesting new technology. It may help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. I think I could probably use a few doses of magnetic stimulation!

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