Older adults get episodic memory boosting from noninvasive stimulation of prefrontal cortex during learning

Neurobiol Aging. 2016 Mar:39:210-216. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2015.12.010. Epub 2015 Dec 29.


Episodic memory displays the largest degree of age-related decline, a process that is accelerated in pathological conditions such as amnestic mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Previous studies have shown that the left lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) contributes to the encoding of episodic memories along the life span. The aim of this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study was to test the hypothesis that anodal trascranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the left lateral PFC during the learning phase would enhance delayed recall of verbal episodic memories in elderly individuals. Older adults learned a list of words while receiving anodal or placebo (sham) tDCS. Memory recall was tested 48 hours and 1 month later. The results showed that anodal tDCS strengthened episodic memories, an effect indicated by enhanced delayed recall (48 hours) compared to placebo stimulation (Cohen's d effect size = 1.01). The observation that PFC-tDCS during learning can boost verbal episodic memory in the elderly opens up the possibility to design-specific neurorehabilitation protocols targeted to conditions that affect episodic memory such as mild cognitive impairment.

Keywords: Aging; Encoding; Episodic memory; Prefrontal cortex; tDCS.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*