Seizures and epilepsy can often affect cognitive performance. Tickling the brain with low-intensity electrical stimulation in a specific area can improve verbal short-term memory. Mayo Clinic researchers report their findings in Brain.
The researchers found word recall was enhanced with low-amplitude electrical stimulation of the brain’s lateral temporal cortex, the regions on the sides of the head by the temples and ears.
“The most exciting finding of this research is that our memory for language information can be improved by directly stimulating this underexplored brain area,” says Michal Kucewicz, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic researcher in the Department of Neurology and co-first author. Dr. Kucewicz compares the stimulation to “tickling” the brain.
The memory testing was done with patients undergoing evaluation for surgery to address seizures. These patients agreed to have their memory investigated using the electrodes implanted in their brains for surgical evaluation. It is common for people with epilepsy to have memory problems because the brain circuits that underlie memory function often are affected by epilepsy.
“These findings may lead to new stimulation devices that treat deficits in memory and cognition,” says Jamie Van Gompel, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon specializing in brain stimulation and an author in the study.
The authors note study limitations include pain and seizure medications that may affect patient performance, the hospital setting that may disrupt patients’ sleep and wake cycles, and the fact that epilepsy affects memory.