Understanding the Neural Basis of Working Memory to Improve WM Function
Remembering new acquaintance's names, losing your train of thought, accidentally bumping into a curb you just saw are examples of working memory (WM) failures that become more frequent with age. WM is a fundamental component of almost every cognitive task. Unfortunately, WM is resistant to improvement. WM training studies reveals subtle, temporary, and task-specific improvements. In other words, people get better at the computer game, but this does not extend to WM demands in real life. Our work shows that pairing WM training with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can produce longer-lasting WM benefits in healthy older adults. Our protocols also demonstrate significant transfer to untrained tasks. This means that WM skills are strengthened in a way that improves WM performance more generally. Importantly, tDCS-based is safe, well tolerated and affordable. The long-term goal of this work is to combat age-related WM decline in healthy aging populations and to extend these benefits to vulnerable populations such as those with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Ideally, tDCS-linked WM training will be able to improve the quality of life and the safety of older adults. Project 1 is researching the best paradigms and protocols to optimize and extend tDCS-linked WM benefits to a wide range of cognitive skills including attention, episodic memory, and decision-making.
In summary, the project results have the potential to reduce age-related WM decline, improve cognition more generally, and to clarify the underlying neural mechanism enhanced by tDCS.