Noninvasive form of brain stimulation improves memory among older people, study finds
09/30/2019 // Melissa Smith // Views

As you age, you may begin to forget some things or misplace things occasionally. This is a normal part of the aging process. However, age-related memory loss can possibly be reversed using a noninvasive form of brain stimulation. A study published in the journal Neurology found that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can restore the memory of older adults to the level of young counterparts.

This technique works by applying magnetic fields to certain brain areas. In turn, this affects the central nervous system. Being non-invasive means it operates completely outside the body.

For the study, researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine recruited 16 adults between 64 and 80 years old. The hippocampus is the brain area that shrinks with age and that previous research has associated with age-related memory loss. However, it is too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to reach it, so they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to target a superficial brain area in the parietal lobe that connects with the hippocampus instead.

"We stimulated where brain activity is synchronized to the hippocampus, suggesting that these regions talk to each other," explained Aneesha Nilakantan, the first author of the study.

The team applied TMS to this brain area for 20 minutes every day for five consecutive days. Stimulating this area enhanced the function of brain areas essential for memory that are disrupted by aging. They also evaluated the memory of each participant using standard memory tests before and after the intervention. The tests comprised of remembering random links between various things, such as objects, places, or words.


After the TMS treatment, the elderly participants scored the same as the young adults. Typically, without the TMS intervention, older adults would only get a score below 40 percent while young adults would get 55 percent of the associations correct. The team also carried out a placebo stimulation condition, but it did not improve memory.

"There is no previous evidence that the specific memory impairments and brain dysfunction seen in older adults can be rescued using brain stimulation or any other method," said Joel Voss, lead researcher of the study.

Improving your memory naturally

Certain lifestyle changes can also help improve and preserve your memory even as you age. Here are some of them:

  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids known to improve overall health and prevent diseases by fighting inflammation. Many studies have shown that EPA and DHA can improve memory, especially in older people. You can increase your intake of omega-3s by eating fatty fish and taking fish oil supplements.
  • Maintain a healthy weight – Maintaining a healthy weight is important for keeping your mind and body in their best condition. Obesity can cause changes to memory-associated genes in the brain, impairing brain health. In addition, obesity has been linked to many health problems that affect cognitive health.
  • Meditate – Meditation is a healing practice for the mind and body. It relaxes and soothes your mind, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and even improves memory by increasing gray matter, which contains neuron cell bodies, according to a study published in the journal Neuroimage.
  • Reduce your sugar intake – Consuming too much sugar can increase your risk of many chronic diseases, including cognitive decline. Research has shown that people who regularly eat foods high in added sugar tend to have poorer memories and lower brain volumes than those who consume less. Reducing your sugar intake not only enhances your memory but also improves your overall health.

Read more articles on how to keep your brain sharp even later in life at

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