Electroconvulsion therapy (also known as ECT, or electric shock therapy) is a psychiatric treatment that sends a sudden current of electricity through the skin in order to cure problems like seizures, depression, and bipolar disorder. Often seen as controversial, electric shock has been proven to be highly effective. And now, scientists have discovered it to be a possible cure for memory loss.
According to The Telegraph, researchers have found that certain areas of the brain showed an improvement in recall memory when a small electric surge was released.
This is a deviation from the previously-known data surrounding ECT’s effect on the brain, which included retrograde (events before the treatment) and anterograde (events after the treatment) amnesia, memory loss, lower recognition, and delayed recall. In fact, nearly all research (including extensive research by Harold Sackeim) showed that a risk of memory loss was a direct side effect of excessive current.
Numerous accounts of immediate memory loss have been reported. ECT is usually administered in a series of six to twelve treatments over a two-week period. Over the course of these two weeks, patients normally have difficulty remembering newly learned information as well as information learned up to 6 months prior to the treatment. Permanent brain damage and memory loss have also been reported.
With memory loss related to depression, however, the story is different. ECT actually has the ability to remove the amnesia that is often associated with severe depression and other mental disorders.
A study done by scientists in Temple University, Philadelphia, followed a treatment that stimulated certain neurons in the brain related to a person retrieving his/her name. They used a current of 1-2 milliamps via electrodes through the scalp of subjects to stimulate the anterior temporal lobes of the brain, the section that deals with the memory of proper names.
The subjects were given photos of famous faces to look at before, during, and after the treatment and were asked to give the name of the person in the photograph. Recognizing the face but not being able to recall the name is a common phenomenon for almost everyone, but is worse for those suffering neurological disorders like depression.
What the scientists found was remarkable – memory of the names was increased by 11% for up to an hour after the treatment was given. While more studies are being conducted on this subject, there is no real answer as to how ECT can actually cure memory loss on a regular basis.
So far, name recall is the only area of the brain that has been tested and improved by electric shock treatment. Since the electric current to the brain stimulates the neurons, they suddenly start working when a person tries to remember a name. If neurons can be stimulated in other parts of the brain, a cure for a longer-term memory loss could be right around the corner.