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A good brain zapping may be a treatment to remember

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By Janet Storm
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, April 14, 2019

One of the challenges of middle age is a memory that fizzles in and out like a radio station with a weak signal.

Some days are frustratingly full of unanswered questions. Where did I park my car? Why did I walk into the living room? Who was I supposed to call after lunch? What happened to the pen I had in my hand three minutes ago?

Until now, the best hope for the middle-aged brain seemed to be writing things down on sticky notes and plastering them in spots where they cannot be missed. I have personally used this method for several years. Still, there are times when no sticky notes are at hand, and going to fetch them turns into another trip down no-memory lane.

Luckily, science is working on the problem. As reported by The Associated Press, a study has found a specific brand of treatment can improve a form of memory enough that people older than 60 performed like people in their 20s.

Here’s the problem — the treatment is zapping people’s brains with electricity.

The report actually specifies it is a “mild electrical current.” Still, anyone who has ever seen a science fiction movie can probably draw to mind an image of brain zapping that seems less than benign.

I have to admit I am a bit curious about why brain zapping was on the table in the first place. Is there no one out there who can develop a nice, safe memory pill, preferably coated in chocolate?

Hooking electrodes to someone’s head seems like a last-resort measure to me. Sort of a “Hey, you know what might be funny? Zapping a bunch of 60-year-olds’ brains. They can’t remember if they turned on the dryer or where they left their cellphone — they probably won’t recall this particular treatment either.”

According to a report published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the treatment is aimed at "working memory," the ability to hold information in mind for a matter of seconds as you perform a task, such as doing math in your head, taking medications, paying bills or buying groceries.

Electrical current was administered through a tight-fitting cap that also monitored each subject's brainwaves. For study participants, that current felt like a slight tingling, itching or poking sensation under the electrodes for about 30 seconds. After that, the skin got used to the current and it was imperceptible, according to the study’s author.

I have my doubts. For one thing, a tight-fitting cap would play havoc with my hairstyle. More importantly, I would like to get a more specific description than “slight tingling” for what subjects experienced. More than once, I have had people in the medical profession tell me a treatment would cause “mild discomfort” when in fact it turned out to be a major pain. I’m looking at you, Mr. Tetanus shot.

The report actually said that more research would be needed. I support that notion. Before anyone gets near my head with electricity, I would like to know all other options have been exhausted.

Get to work on that chocolate pill, science. Or point me to where I left my sticky notes.

Contact Janet Storm at jstorm@reflector.com or 252-329-9587.

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