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Sundowners: Light Therapy for Dementia

Cognitive diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are debilitating and demoralizing - both for those that suffer from the disease as well as their caregivers. Because these diseases are so dreadful, research is almost constantly being done to find treatments and therapies to cure the diseases, and if not cure them, at least effectively treat some of the symptoms. One of the new therapies recently seeing success in studies is light therapy for dementia.

Light Treatment for Dementia

Light therapy involves sitting in front of a bright light - about 30 times as bright as a typical office light. The person receiving the therapy would sit in front of the light for a set amount of time several times per day. Bright light therapy has been shown to help regulate circadian rhythms, or in other words, it can help someone sleep.

Seniors who suffer from dementia tend to have difficulty sleeping. Bright light therapy helps encourage the brain to stay away during the day and sleep during the night. Though in general doctors believe more research is needed on the topic, signs are promising that light therapy could help dementia patients get better sleep. This is especially good news as sleep medications tend to either not work on dementia patients, or have too many side effects and risks.

More sleep at night for dementia patients also means less wandering. Wandering can be very dangerous and lead to serious injury, so anything that can help prevent it - especially in the middle of a dark night - is exciting news.

Light therapy can be effective for sundowners as well - those who suffer from dementia symptoms in the afternoon and evening. The best light for sundowners is at least 40 Hz.

Red Light Treatment for Dementia

In addition to bright light therapy, research is also seeing promising signs with red light treatment. Red or near-infrared light treatments with Alzheimer’s patients have shown encouraging signs like increased cognitive function, less anxiety, less wandering and better sleep. Most importantly, the study (in mice) suggested there were no negative side effects associated with the treatment, and it can be administered at home.

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Science still has a lot to learn when it comes to light therapy for dementia. Studies that have been conducted with humans have generally been very small, and results are not always easy to measure. But it is a hopeful sign that treatments for dementia and other cognitive disorders are out there. And with no known negative side effects, if you are a caregiver for someone who suffers from dementia, light therapy may be worth a try (after consulting with a doctor, of course).

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