Cerebellum Stimulation Boosts Older Adults’ Episodic Memory

New research shows how noninvasive neurostimulation of the right cerebellum improves episodic memory and may offset age-related cognitive decline.

For centuries, the cerebellum was considered a motor-function-only brain region that coordinated smooth and accurate muscle movements but didn't play a role in cognition. Most neuroscientists didn't think the cerebellum played a role in nonmotor brain functions or cognition until the late 1990s, after Jeremy Schmahmann identified and coined the term cerebellar cognitive affective syndrome in 1998.
Before 1998, damage to the cerebellum was primarily associated with motor syndromes like cerebellar ataxia and dysmetria.
Since the early 2000s, accumulating evidence suggests that different microzones within the left and right cerebellar hemispheres play a vital role in optimizing how the whole brain works in concert to facilitate higher executive functions like working memory, linguistic processing, spatial cognition, social mentalizing, and emotion regulation.
Much like the cerebellum coordinates smooth, fluid movements and promotes superfluid athletic performance, different parts of the cerebellum's left and right hemispheres help to coordinate thought processes and may facilitate superfluid thinking.
For years, we've known that damage or deterioration of certain cerebellar regions affects the whole brain's cognitive capacity and can result in what Schmahmann calls "dysmetria of thought." Now, new research suggests that stimulating the right cerebellum enhances the brain's ability to learn and remember.
Stimulating the Right Cerebellum Improves Episodic Memory
A new study (Almeida et al., 2023) into the cerebellum's role in cognitive functions found that stimulating the right cerebellar hemisphere with anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) improves episodic memory in older adults over age 60. These findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal GeroScience.
"Here, we show that the cerebellum plays a causal role in episodic memory performance and aging-related [cognitive] decline and that age-related episodic memory decline can be reduced in a long-lasting way with neurostimulation to the right cerebellum," the authors explain.
For this 12-day study, first author Jorge Almeida and colleagues randomly assigned study participants to one of four groups. Only one group received anodal tDCS to the right cerebellum for 12 days. Another group received anodal tDCS to the left prefrontal cortex during this time. The remaining groups were used as controls and didn't receive actual tDCS neurostimulation but instead were put on a waitlist or received sham tDCS treatment.
The researchers tested participants' verbal episodic memory using the Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT) at three different time points: before the study began, one day after the 12-day study ended, and four months after the study concluded.
Notably, those who received anodal tDCS to the right cerebellum were the only participants with significantly better FCSRT scores immediately following 12 days of neurostimulation and four months later at a follow-up evaluation.
"Memory performance enhancement greatly outlasts the [12-day] stimulation period," the authors explain. "Moreover, all individuals in the right cerebellum anodal tDCS experimental group showed memory performance improvements at the follow-up evaluation time [four months later]."
Neurostimulation of the Right Cerebellum Enhances Memory-Related Connectivity
Interestingly, Almeida et al. found that subcortical anodal tDCS to the right cerebellum improved its structural and functional connectivity with the hippocampus and other cortical brain regions involved in episodic memory.
As the authors explain, "Immediate effects of tDCS to the right cerebellum on the functional connectivity of the hippocampus were observed over a series of regions that are majorly involved in many of the processes that are central to episodic memory, and thus are important to sustain enhancements of episodic memory performance."
The Main Takeaways From This Study
Stimulating the right cerebellum improves episodic memory in older adults for at least four months after a 12-day treatment. Noninvasive anodal tDCS to the "little brain" also changes the cerebellum's functional and structural connectivity with the hippocampus and other cortical regions in the episodic memory network.
The authors conclude that neuromodulation of the right cerebellum can improve long-term episodic memory. They also posit that these findings demonstrate a "causal role of the cerebellum in high-level cognitive processes—specifically in episodic memory."
In an April 2023 news release, Almeida summarizes the clinical implications of his team's latest findings: "[Our] work opens up the possibility of developing non-pharmacological interventions to ameliorate typical age-related cognitive frailty that induce long-lasting improvements that, at least, outlast the four months tested herein."
Optimizing Connectivity Between All Four Brain Hemispheres
For decades, I've been fascinated with how the right and left cerebellar hemispheres work in concert with the cerebrum's "left brain-right brain." As a young right-handed tennis player, my neuroscientist father taught me that the right cerebellum works with the left cerebral hemisphere to control the right side of the body.
During my years as a professional athlete, I was always intrigued by the crisscrossed connectivity between the cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres as it relates to superfluid coordination and peak performance. (See The Split-Brain: An Ever-Changing Hypothesis.)
In 2009, I drew a brain map (see illustration, left) using some highlighters and Sharpies that showed a birds-eye view of all four brain hemispheres squished down onto a two-dimensional plane. The yellow and green bidirectional arrows form a "Super 8," illustrating how structural and functional connectivity might flow between all four hemispheres in ways that help the whole brain function better.
Looking at this brain map through the lens of Almeida et al.'s latest (2023) research, it seems plausible that targeting the right cerebellum kickstarts a chain reaction that enhances structural connectivity between different hemispheres and, in doing so, helps to optimize whole-brain functionality.

psychology today

19 replies
  1. مبینا محمدزاده
    مبینا محمدزاده says:

    Thank you for this article Episodic i think memory affects the past memories of the elderly Many people can be both logical and creative at the same time.Exercise can be very important factor in budget memory can be strengthened by stimulating

  2. Sevda_jafari
    Sevda_jafari says:

    According to the prevailing theory about how information is transformed into long-term memories in the brain, it is speculated that the dialogue between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex in a closed-loop manner can strengthen memory.

  3. Atro soleymani
    Atro soleymani says:

    I have been reading many articles from your site so far, it has really added to my knowledge. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  4. فاطمه سرحدی
    فاطمه سرحدی says:

    It was great, teacher. Episodic memory affects the past memories of the elderly, and by stimulating the right cerebellum, memory can be controlled and strengthened.

  5. Atiyeh soleymanian memandi
    Atiyeh soleymanian memandi says:

    The right hemisphere of the brain works more on creativity and facial recognition. Although the functions of the brain are divided according to its hemispheres, and even certain functions are required for their implementation, each function still requires the whole brain. Although the analytical side of some types of characters is more than their artistic side, but in any case the brain is used in general. Many people can be both logical and creative at the same time.

  6. Razie nazari rad
    Razie nazari rad says:

    Event memory along with semantic memory form two categories of explicit memory.

  7. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    tdcs is a great advance for improving neuroscience
    It’s exciting to see how advances in neuroscience can lead to new treatments and interventions for age-related cognitive decline.

  8. Hannaneh Ghalandari
    Hannaneh Ghalandari says:

    Hi Professor, in my opinion, event memory or episodic memory refers to a type of memory in humans that stores special personal experiences. Event memory along with semantic memory form two categories of explicit memory.

  9. Elika Khodadi
    Elika Khodadi says:

    It was the first time I read such an article about the cerebellum and it was added to my information. Thank you, it was a very good article.Can you write an article about neurogenesis in adults

  10. Azadeh shokri
    Azadeh shokri says:

    Hi professor
    Ithink opisodic memory is a reminder of past memories that decrease with of this type of memory. Exercise can be very important factor in budget. That most be performed regularly and oppropraite ege

  11. mani dolati
    mani dolati says:

    It was a good and valuable article
    thank you
    Can you write an article about neurogenesis in adults, this is very interesting for me

  12. Bahar Javid
    Bahar Javid says:

    Hello dear professor Thank you for this article I didn’t know that the brain affects a person’s actions to such an extent and damage to the smallest parts of the brain can cause serious diseases for a person.

  13. Zahra choopanbishe
    Zahra choopanbishe says:

    I did not know that epizoic memory can be strengthened by stimulating the right cerebellum😇

  14. Zahra choopanbishe
    Zahra choopanbishe says:

    Hi teacher, it was very interesting
    I did not know that epizoic memory can be enhanced by stimulating the right cerebellum


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