By Lulu Rasor
Are you afraid of growing old and forgetful? Do you dread the day where phone numbers and memories slip from your mind? Or do you worry about irreversible brain injuries clouding your mind? Well, scientists may be developing a cure for memory decline. This potential cure is tACS. No, not like the mint. TACS stands for Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation. TACS is a method of stimulation that can temporarily correct the brain as memory power decreases by essentially “tuning” the waves of your brain.
No, this isn’t some X-Men-style science fiction idea, but something with real basis in science. Recent advances in neuroscience have determined that memory works through a network throughout the brain, organizing the interaction through theta waves, slow-frequency rhythms similar to the way whales communicate through song underwater. TACS works by tuning the network and waves to each other, allowing connections to happen.
The best part is that tACS doesn’t require any invasive procedures like brain surgery to test and use. It’s a noninvasive procedure that sends stimulation through the skull in barely-noticeable waves.
TACS has already been tested in laboratories and found to have positive impacts on working memory, the short-term memory that contains useful information relevant to the current situation. A study of two groups–one of young people and one consisting of subjects in their 60s and 70s–were tested in the same way by being shown one picture and then another and told to detect any differences. The older subjects were tested twice, once before tACS and once after 25 minutes of stimulation. While they did worse than the younger group before tACS, the results showed a marked improvement after as the older subjects performed just a well as the younger subjects. Multiple tests, even placebo ones, were run until it was confirmed: tACS could help improve the memories of older people until they matched the memories of younger people. It didn’t even seem to wear off as long as the tests continued–almost an hour of improved memory.
Working memory decline is hypothesized to happen because brain circuits become disconnected, but now it seems possible to reconnect the circuits. However, it doesn’t have as great of an effect on younger people, working instead to correct memories instead of simply improving them.
Unfortunately, right now tACS is far from a freely available cure for memory decline. The long-term effects are pretty much unknown despite careful lab surveillance. It’s a promising start to help those suffering from memory decline from illness, age, of injury, not a do-it-yourself immediate cure.
However, there are increasing numbers of people experimenting with simple brain stimulation outside of labs. People have been exploring how brain stimulation can help with memory, depression, or simply clearing the mind. While tACS is currently a lab-only procedure, it’s not unlikely that in the future people may be performing memory-improving brain stimulation at home. Just think, there may be a future in which people never have to fear dementia, brain damage, or that relative who can’t keep you straight with your siblings!
To Improve Memory, Tune It Like an Orchestra
Benedict Carey - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/health/aging-brain-memory.html?searchResultPosition=2
Ms. Carrigan's Psych Class
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