Medical science has made great strides in repairing bones, but not so much in repairing brains. Part of the difficulty is pinpointing exactly where the problem lies in the massive neural network of the brain. A new study shows promise in using electrical stimulation to the brain to help improve memory. This research could one day help those suffering from memory loss due to old age, disease, or trauma.

The research study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Communications, reports memory improvement using electrical stimulation. The researchers stimulated an area of the brain that has been mostly ignored in earlier studies. By applying stimulation more strategically and selectively, memory was enhanced more reliably. Researchers knew from brain imaging that different parts of the brain are at work when storing facts that we can recall easily, as opposed to storing facts we can’t easily recall. Electrical stimulation of the brain has already been used to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Study participants were, in fact, epilepsy patients, who already had electrodes implanted in their brain to monitor their condition. For this study, computers monitored these brain sensors as participants memorized a list of words, and calculated which words participants were less likely to remember. Constant brain stimulation had a negative impact on word recall, but memory was improved when electrical stimulation was applied as a “wake up” jolt, but only when it appeared that the brain wasn’t retaining a particular word.

The study is preliminary, but the findings could help scientists develop more effective ways to combat memory-destroying diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers for the study report that their findings suggest that brain stimulation without implanted electrodes may one day be possible. It may be that the stimulating currents could be induced wirelessly, which raises the possibility that we will someday be able to put a real “thinking cap” on to help us learn new content.