We examined the intriguing but controversial idea that disrupted sleep-dependent consolidation contributes to age-related memory decline. Slow-wave activity during sleep may help strengthen neural connections and provide memories with long-term stability, in which case decreased slow-wave activity in older adults could contribute to their weaker memories. One prediction from this account is that age-related memory deficits should be reduced by artificially enhancing slow-wave activity. In young adults, applying transcranial current oscillating at a slow frequency (0.75 Hz) during sleep improves memory. Here, we tested whether this procedure can improve memory in older adults. In 2 sessions separated by 1 week, we applied either slow-oscillatory stimulation or sham stimulation during an afternoon nap in a double-blind, crossover design. Memory tests were administered before and after sleep. A larger improvement in word-pair recall and higher slow-wave activity was observed with slow-oscillatory stimulation than with sham stimulation. This is the first demonstration that this procedure can improve memory in older adults, suggesting that declarative memory performance in older adults is partly dependent on slow-wave activity during sleep.
Keywords: Aging; Declarative memory; Electrical stimulation; Slow-wave sleep.
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