Memory loss is among the most common war-related injuries. Ongoing studies aim to help veterans with memory loss through deep brain stimulation.
The ongoing program sponsored by the United States Department of Defense is now running for four years. It aims to develop technologies that will help military personnel and war veterans with memory problems caused by brain injuries.
The program has yielded initial results when two types of research from the University of Pennsylvania proved that precisely-timed brain stimulation on the temporal lobe can improve memory.
According to the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, war veterans who have experienced traumatic brain injuries may be at risk for memory loss. Among those that are considered high risk for memory loss are veterans who became unconscious and have experienced altered memory or poor concentration following a brain injury.
Veterans who have had a head concussion and TBI can still develop dementia, memory loss, and other brain diseases years after the injury. While memory loss can also be attributed to other reasons like psychological factors, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional trauma, sleep deprivation, and Alzheimer’s, persons with TBI are susceptible to memory loss.
TBI or closed-head traumatic brain injuries happen when a person is exposed to a blast or an explosion and succeeding blast waves. Shock waves of high pressure and low pressure occur almost instantaneously after a blast. These rapid changes in pressure can cause brain trauma, brain swelling, and even stroke.
From the year 2000, more than 300,000 military service members were diagnosed with TBI, more than 80 percent of which were due to concussions. TBI also affects an estimated 1.7 million U.S. civilians each year and is considered a serious cause of disability in the United States. Head injuries are known to alter genes in the brains that increase the risk of psychiatric and neurological problems.
Veterans can minimize or prevent memory loss by wearing protective headgear, being in good physical shape, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, getting enough sleep, eating healthy as well as performing mentally stimulating activities such as reading and writing
The memory research program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency known as the Restoring Active Memory or RAM program aims to lessen the effects of traumatic brain injury among military service members by developing neurotechnologies to facilitate memory formation and recall in the injured brain.
Novel procedures such as deep brain stimulations using brain pacemakers may help veterans deal with memory loss.
“We didn’t just do this for the sake of science,” says Dr. Justin Sanchez of DARPA’s biological technologies office. “We wanted a real technology that could ultimately make its way out into the world.”
Scientists involved in the RAM program are working on wireless implantable devices that can be used for brain stimulation systems. The University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania have multidisciplinary teams developing and testing electronic interfaces that can sense memory deficits caused by injury and attempt to restore normal function. Each of the teams received financial study grants from DARPA.
Preliminary results of the University of Pennsylvania’s research showed the brain stimulation using electrical pulses on the temporal lobe increased memory functions by 15 percent.
“If any of us could get a 15 percent boost in our memory, that would be transformative,” says Sanchez.