Mini Electric Shocks May Help Memory

By Emily Murray

When most of us hear anything dealing with electric shocks and the brain, we likely recall terrifying scenes from movies or perhaps antiquated medical practices for treating those with mental health conditions. If we are hoping to preserve our memories into our later years in life however, perhaps we should take another look.

In what some view as a controversial study, researchers put earlier findings from studies on animals in to practice on the human brain to see what impact a specific form of electric current would have on the ability to remember.

Scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) tested out a type of treatment to activate the ERC, entorhinal cortex, a section of the brain that is believed to control spatial memory. The research was conducted on only 7 patients, all of whom had epilepsy and had electrodes inserted into areas of their brain in order to better understand what was triggering their seizures.

The researchers took this opportunity to see how sending electric current to stimulate the ERC could impact the ability to recall memories so that it could possibly be used as treatment for those suffering from memory problems. The results were rather surprising.

Study participants were asked to take part and play a video game in which they were taxi cab drivers who needed to take passengers to six different store locations in this virtual video game town. During half the deliveries, the researchers would stimulate various areas in the brain including the ERC with a non-painful surge of electricity during the times that they were learning where each location was.

When participants went back to the locations that they had learned while receiving the stimulation to the ERC area, they were able to get there faster than the other areas when the ERC was not stimulated.

This test seemed to probe that there are times when perhaps manipulating certain areas of the brain can help to increase memory. If this holds true, this could be especially helpful for treating conditions like Alzheimer’s in which the loss of memory causes patients to forget things that are part of spatial memory, the type that helps you remember where you are, where the car is parked, how to get places etc.

As this is the first study of it’s kind, it may be a while before this type of medicine could be used practically, but it does provide hope for the future of brain disorder treatment.