BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Short term memory can be improved using laser light therapy, according to experiments by an international team.
The treatment, called transcranial photobiomodulation (tPBM), is applied to the right prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is important for short term memory. Scientists from the University of Birmingham and Beijing Normal University found that participants’ working memory improved up to 25 percent after several minutes of treatment.
The team was also able to track changes in brain activity using electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring during treatment and testing.
Previous studies have shown tPBM can improve working memory in mice, and human studies have shown that the treatment can improve accuracy, speed up reaction time, and improve high-order functions such as attention and emotion.
However, this study, published in the journal Science Advances, is the first to confirm a link between tPBM and working memory in humans.
“People with conditions like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or other attention-related conditions could benefit from this type of treatment, which is safe, simple and non-invasive, with no side-effects,” says co-author Dongwei Li, a visiting PhD student at the University of Birmingham, according to a statement from SWNS.
12 minutes of light therapy produces noticeable results
In the study, researchers at Beijing Normal University carried out experiments with 90 male and female participants between 18 and 25 years-old.
The participants were treated with laser light to the right prefrontal cortex at wavelengths of 1,064 nanometers, while others were treated at a shorter wavelength, or treatment was delivered to the left prefrontal cortex. Each participant also received treated with a sham, or inactive, tPBM to rule out the placebo effect.
After tPBM treatment over 12 minutes, the participants were asked to remember the orientations or color of a set of items displayed on a screen. The participants treated with laser light to the right prefrontal cortex at 1,064 nm showed clear improvements in memory over those who had received the other treatments.
While participants receiving other treatment variations were able to remember between three and four of the test objects, those with the targeted treatment were able to recall between four and five objects. Data taken from EEG monitoring showed changes in brain activity that also predicted the improvements in memory performance.
The researchers do not yet know precisely why the treatment results in positive effects on working memory, nor how long the effects will last.
“We need further research to understand exactly why the tPBM is having this positive effect, but it’s possible that the light is stimulating the astrocytes – the powerplants – in the nerve cells within the prefrontal cortex, and this has a positive effect on the cells’ efficiency,” Professor Ole Jensen from the University of Birmingham tells SWNS.
“We will also be investigating how long the effects might last. Clearly if these experiments are to lead to a clinical intervention, we will need to see long-lasting benefits.”
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.