Manipulating brainwaves could become a revolutionary treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study by neuroscientists at the University of Birmingham. A patient’s memory could be improved by altering the frequency of their brain waves.


Brain waves, also known as neural oscillations, are the result of electrical activity in the body. Neurons fire electrical signals in the brain and nervous system, and these signals can synchronise to form waves which can be detected by an EEG (electroencephalogram). Previous studies have shown that there is a link between these brain waves and the process of storing memories.

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The team, led by Dr Simon Hanslmayr at the University of Birmingham's Centre for Human Brain Health, reviewed the research into the topic and concluded that not only are brain waves linked to memory processes, but also memory processes can be directly altered by manipulating brain waves.

Brain waves can be forced to follow particular rhythms by various methods, both invasive and non-invasive.

"We can modulate memory performance via rhythmic neural stimulation, which can be as simple as flickering a light at a particular rhythm which then is followed by neurons in the brain,” said Hanslmayr.

As well as a flickering light, brain waves can be modified non-invasively with rhythmic sounds and electrical or electromagnetic waves. An alternative method is deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are surgically placed into the brain. This is currently used as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and tremors.

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"Much more research will be required, but it seems clear that driving brain rhythms in such a way is a promising tool for improving memory - both for healthy people and for patients suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer's disease," Hanslmayr said.


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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.