Everyone would like to have better memory. We always forget things when we need to remember something. When we get older, we tend to forget more. What can we do to improve our memory performance? On the internet you can find many solutions to improve your memory.
For example, there are hundreds different pills you can buy that will boost your performance. Just Google ‘pills memory’ and you will find things like Brain Smart, Braineffect, Focus, Sharp Mind etc. There are some nice quotes from people who buy these pills: ‘I finally get my work done’, ‘I can focus much more on my work’, and similar kinds of remarks. Many of these pills contain different ingredients like caffeine, ginkgo biloba extract, tyrosine, L-theanine. All of these ingredients have shown some beneficial effects in experimental studies. Recently, we conducted a study in which we compared the cognition-enhancing effects of one of these so-called smart drugs with just caffeine or placebo. Although caffeine had a positive effect on cognition (better than placebo), the smart drug that contained different ingredients (including caffeine) had no effect. So, drinking coffee may be sufficient to boost your cognitive performance. Moreover, it’s cheaper!
Clearly, more studies are needed to test whether these smart drugs have a positive effect on cognition. The effects that people report on the website could easily be related to a placebo effect. Interestingly, the placebo effect in cognitive functions is not well investigated. Currently, we are planning studies in which we would like to examine how big this effect is and which factors lead to this placebo effect.
Aging and Dementia
Aging is clearly associated with a decrease in cognitive functions. Older people complain that they forget many things, something which is especially frustrating when you have to learn new things. This is even worse when you are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In these cases you see a progressive loss of cognitive functions. Currently, the treatment options are very limited and only have transient positive effects and have adverse effects.
We conducted basic research in animal studies in which we tried to find ways to improve memory performance. This work was based on the seminal work of Nobel Prize winner Prof Eric Kandel. Studies from his laboratory, and others, it became clear that some basic processes in neurons are critical for memory formation. So, there were molecules that could be targeted to modulate the processes related to memory formation. We focused on phosphodiesterases as potential drugs to stimulate the memory molecules and thereby improving memory performance. This was first shown in many animal studies. Recently, we also have data showing that such a drug (roflumilast) can improve memory performance in humans. This is an example of repurposing of a drug since roflumilast is actually developed for COPD, a severe lung disease. If we can confirm these findings this could become available for people with memory problems relatively quickly since the drug is already used clinically.