A Systematic Review of Non-invasive Brain Stimulation Applications to Memory in Healthy Aging

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It has long been acknowledged that memory changes over the course of one’s life, irrespective of diseases like dementia. Approaches to mitigate these changes have however yielded mixed results. Brain stimulation has been identified as one novel approach of augmenting older adult’s memory. Thus far, such approaches have however been nuanced, targeting different memory domains with different methodologies. This has produced an amalgam of research with an unclear image overall. This systematic review therefore aims to clarify this landscape, evaluating, and interpreting available research findings in a coherent manner. A systematic search of relevant literature was conducted across Medline, PsycInfo, Psycarticles and the Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, which uncovered 44 studies employing non-invasive electrical brain stimulation in healthy older adults. All studies were of generally good quality spanning numerous memory domains. Within these, evidence was found for non-invasive brain stimulation augmenting working, episodic, associative, semantic, and procedural memory, with the first three domains having the greatest evidence base. Key sites for stimulation included the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), temporoparietal region, and primary motor cortex, with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) holding the greatest literature base. Inconsistencies within the literature are highlighted and interpreted, however this discussion was constrained by potential confounding variables within the literature, a risk of bias, and challenges defining research aims and results. Non-invasive brain stimulation often did however have a positive and predictable impact on older adult’s memory, and thus warrants further research to better understand these effects.

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