There is very mixed data for the ability of electromagnetic stimulation to improve cognitive function. One recent study suggests that this is because the way in which such stimulation is applied, the details of frequency, power, timing, and so forth, matters greatly. There is no one obvious way to go about this form of intervention, and most studies differ in any number of details that may or or may not turn out to be important given a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms. The small study here is an example of a case in which improved memory function is demonstrated in older people – which might be compared to other, similar studies in which no benefit was observed.
Source memory is one of the cognitive abilities that are most vulnerable to aging. Luckily, the brain plasticity could be modulated to counteract the decline. The repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a relatively non-invasive neuro-modulatory technique, could directly modulate neural excitability in the targeted cortical areas. Here, we are interested in whether the application of rTMS could enhance the source memory performance in healthy older adults. In addition, event-related potentials (ERPs) were employed to explore the specific retrieval process that rTMS could affect.
Subjects were randomly assigned to either the rTMS group or the sham group. The rTMS group received 10 sessions (20 min per session) of 10 Hz rTMS applying on the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (i.e., F4 site), and the sham group received 10 sessions of sham stimulation. Both groups performed source memory tests before and after the intervention while the electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded during the retrieval process. Behavioral results showed that the source memory performance was significantly improved after rTMS compared with the sham stimulation; ERPs results showed that during the retrieval phase, the left parietal old/new effect, which reflected the process of recollection common to both young and old adults, increased in the rTMS group compared with the sham stimulation group, whereas the late reversed old/new effect specific to the source retrieval of older adults showed similar attenuation after intervention in both groups.
The present results suggested that rTMS could be an effective intervention to improve source memory performance in healthy older adults and that it selectively facilitated the youth-like recollection process during retrieval.