Can Light Therapy Help with Alzheimer’s Disease?Can Light Therapy Help with Alzheimer’s Disease?

Sometimes simple options are better. The best example is light therapy for Alzheimer’s disease sleep disorders. The part of our brain that controls our wake-sleep cycle is the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Sometimes that cycle can get out of whack.

Jet-lag is an example of that and how we feel when it happens. Jet-lag is quickly cured by the day-night cycle of our new time zone.

Dementia can also harm the suprachiasmatic nucleus and create sleep disorders related to a disease like Alzheimer’s. A good therapy light can help restore a more natural sleep pattern.

Light therapy involves regular exposure to light anywhere from five to thirty times brighter than normal office lights. The light is installed in a box with a screen that diffuses it. The person needs to sit in front of the light source for a set amount of time each day to take light therapy.

Initially intended for people struggling with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), light therapy has also been used to treat circadian problems, where people have difficulty sleeping well at night.

Recently, light therapy has been researched and used as a complementary therapy for Alzheimer's and other related dementias. It may offer some similar benefits to medication but not have the potential for adverse side effects or medication interactions.

The Potential Benefits of Light Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease

We can find several possible benefits of light therapy in Alzheimer's diseases. These are:

Improved Sleep Cycles

Sleep distractions are a common problem in Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia. But the medications of these diseases are risky, and it contains significant side effects. A study tracked the sleep habits of 11 patients with dementia and found that their sleeping habits developed significantly following light therapy.

Multiple other studies have proven the similar effectiveness of light therapy. One research measured the combination of bright light therapy with walking and found a noticeable development in sleeping habits when both bright light therapy and walking were performed regularly.

Also, another study measured the combination of light therapy with the use of melatonin. The researchers found that the patients, all of whom had dementia, noticed an improvement in their sleep cycles when exposed to light therapy. Interestingly, it was not when the bright light therapy was combined with melatonin.

However, the morning administration of bright light therapy in persons with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease may decrease sleep disturbances.

Reduced Wandering

Some study has shown that in addition to improving the sleep-wake cycle. Light therapy also reduced wandering for people with dementia all over the night. Wandering can be a severe behavioral concern since it can impact the safety of the person with dementia and the sleep patterns of both the person and the caregiver.

Improved Cognition

Light therapy has been related to improved scores on the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), which measures cognitive or emotional ability.

Those who take this treatment find significantly improved scores on the MMSE, compared to no change in the scores when exposed to low light therapy.

Another study also showed developed cognitive functioning after light therapy, but only for those who were in the primary stages of Alzheimer's. It won't work for the middle or later stages.

Improved Behavioral Functioning

One study found that participants, all of whom had a diagnosis of dementia, showed an improvement in the challenging behaviors that often go with Alzheimer's. However, another study compared the agitation levels when people with dementia were exposed to light therapy and found no difference in their agitation.

Decreased Depression and Agitation

Research of sixty older adults with dementia measured light therapy's effects compared to low-intensity light exposure. It found that light therapy was connected with significantly reduced levels of both depression and agitation.

Another study also found that depressive symptoms in people with all stages of dementia, including the late stages, developed with exposure to bright light therapy.

Note: Please note that if light therapy sounds like something you or your loved one would benefit from, you should consult it with your doctor, as there are a few conditions where it might not be medically perfect for you or could even be harmful.

Alzheimer’s and toxic proteins

Alzheimer’s is a condition that slowly damages brain tissue and related function through the irreparable loss of cells.

A 2018 study by Alzheimer’s Disease International shows that fifty million people worldwide have dementia. And Alzheimer's is the leading cause of this. Though some treatments can slow Alzheimer’s symptoms down for a while, none of them can cure it altogether. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, the brain starts to change a long time before experiencing dementia symptoms. Such symptoms involve difficulties with thinking and remembering also.

Specifically, two changes happen. These are the improvement of toxic deposits, or plaques, of beta-amyloid protein between nerve cells and the formation of toxic twist of tau protein inside the cells.

Because of Alzheimer's, the power of oscillations in the gamma frequency band also decreased.

Scientists have suggested that gamma oscillations are a type of brain wave necessary for memory and attention functions.

In their earlier work, the researchers showed that exposure to light flickering at a rate of forty cycles per second, or hertz, stimulated gamma oscillations in the brain's visual cortex in the rat.

Adding sound tones beating at the same level increase the light therapy's plaque-reducing effect and enlarge it beyond the visual cortex into the hippocampus and some of the prefrontal cortex.

Gamma oscillations from both treatments also led to developments in memory function in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

While light therapy has been well-studied as a treatment for SAD, it still needs additional and more accurate studies to prove its effectiveness in Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

However, given that we are still very limited in the availability of effective medical treatments for dementia, light therapy shows promise as a complementary approach to improving the quality of life in those living with dementia or Alzheimer's.

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