Modulating Prospective Memory in Older Adults With Non-invasive Brain Stimulation

  • End date
    Dec 10, 2022
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Bern
Updated on 10 July 2021


Prospective memory is the ability to remember to carry out intentions with a certain delay (e.g. remember to buy stamps when passing a postal office). Prospective memory tasks require a large degree of self-initiated retrieval and in the absence of a prompt to recall, people must 'remember to remember' by their own volition. Thus, prospective memory is a challenge - especially in old age with increasing health-related prospective memory demands.

Previous studies reported links between neural activity in specific brain regions and prospective memory performance. Yet, the mere occurrence of a change in brain activity in concomitance with performance of a behavioral task is not sufficient to confirm a causal relationship between the two phenomena. Therefore, this study aims to apply non-invasive brain stimulation to facilitate or inhibit activity in different brain regions presumed to be functionally associated with prospective memory. Additional to the prospective memory tasks, the investigators will implement control tasks (i.e., attention) to assess whether stimulation will specifically enhance prospective memory performance or whether other cognitive functions will be modulated additionally.

It is hypothesized that stimulation will lead to changes in prospective memory functioning. Further, the investigators expect that facilitation of attentional processes might be linked to prospective memory improvements.


This study aims to modulate neural activity in the left and right inferior frontal lobe as well as in the right superior parietal lobe via high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) in older adults. There is evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that these areas are involved in prospective memory performance in younger and older adults but a causal relation between activity in these areas and responses in prospective memory tasks has not been established so far.

A double blind, sham-controlled, parallel group design will be applied. Healthy older adults (n=105) will participate in two separate sessions: During the first baseline session, no stimulation is applied. For the second session, participants will then be randomly assigned to one of seven experimental groups (cathodal vs. anodal right inferior frontal lobe (rIFL); cathodal vs. anodal left inferior frontal lobe (lIFL); cathodal vs. anodal right superior parietal lobe (rSPL); or sham). Real stimulation will be applied during 20 minutes with one Milliamp (mA). In case of sham stimulation (i.e., control intervention), the electrode positions and the attachment procedures correspond to those of real tDCS but the electrical current will only be ramped up to one mA and switched off completely after 30 s of stimulation.

The primary objective of this study is the modulation of prospective memory performance in a computer-based task via tDCS. Further, this study aims to clarify the role of attentional control for prospective memory performance, as both processes seem to recruit similar neural structures. Additionally, naturalistic and self-rated prospective memory performance will be assessed.

It is hypothesized that stimulation of the right inferior frontal lobe will lead to changes in prospective memory performance and attentional processes. Whether cathodal or anodal stimulation will enhance performance is not clear yet, since previous fMRI studies were inconsistent about activity changes in older adults. Further, the investigators expect that anodal stimulation of the left inferior frontal cortex may lead to faster responses to prospective memory stimuli, whereas cathodal stimulation of the same area may lead to prolonged reaction times. It is hypothesized that attentional control will not be affected by stimulation of the left inferior frontal lobe. Finally, the investigators expect that anodal stimulation of the right superior parietal cortex will lead to better prospective memory and attentional control performance, whereas cathodal stimulation will have detrimental effects on both functions.

Condition Healthy Aging
Treatment sham stimulation, Non-invasive brain stimulation
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04882527
SponsorUniversity of Bern
Last Modified on10 July 2021


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Inclusion Criteria

No cognitive impairments
Fluent in German
Normal or corrected-to-normal vision
Written informed consent

Exclusion Criteria

Current/lifetime severe psychiatric or neurological disorder
Metal implants in the head area
Psychotropic medication
Current/lifetime alcohol abuse
Magnetisable implants
Clear my responses

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