Study: Electric boost helps brain learn better

? People learned better when a key part of their brains got mild zaps of electricity, a finding that may someday help Alzheimer’s patients keep more of their memories.

In a small but tantalizing study, participants played a video game in which they learned the locations of stores in a virtual city. They recalled the locations better if they learned them while receiving a painless boost from tiny electrodes buried deep inside their brains.

In the future, that strategy might help curb memory loss for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, suggested Dr. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles. But he cautioned that the results were preliminary.

Using implanted electrodes to treat brain disease is hardly new. Such “deep-brain stimulation” has been used for about a decade for Parkinson’s disease and some other disorders. Researchers are also testing it for depression.

Some 80,000 or more people worldwide have had stimulation units implanted, mostly for Parkinson’s.

Fried and colleagues reported the new work in today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It was financed by the federal government and the Dana Foundation.