Can Light Therapy Help Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive disorder of the brain where the brain cells degenerate and die. Alzheimer’s can cause dementia, which is characterized by a deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities8.
The continuous decline in cognitive function and behavior (like anger outbursts and increased anxiety) due to Alzheimer’s ultimately disrupts the person’s ability to function independently3.
An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. As the 6th leading cause of death nationwide9, AD can be more deadly than certain types of cancer.
Is There a Cure for Alzheimer’s?
Science is lagging in finding a cure that can entirely heal illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Current medications may only temporarily alleviate AD symptoms or slow the rate of brain decline3.
Early recognition of AD symptoms is essential to delay the disease’s progression. Forgetting recent events or prior conversations pose as early Alzheimer’s signs. A person with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s experiences severe memory impairment and this is when their ability to perform everyday tasks deteriorates as well3.
The Alzheimer’s Association acknowledges that “while there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or a way to stop or slow its progression, there are drugs and non-drug options that may help treat the symptoms12.”
What About Alternative Treatments for Alzheimer’s?
Various alternative, non-drug options have been tried as remedies for Alzheimer’s. Some of these include alternative foods like caprylic acid and coconut oil, which has shown promise in energizing brain cells affected by AD12. Traditional Chinese medicine supplements such as Ginkgo biloba (plant extract) and Huperzine A (moss extract) might also alleviate AD symptoms as some of them have properties, to a certain degree, similar to FDA-approved Alzheimer’s medications12.
However, more clinical research is needed to know the full efficacy of these supplements12.
What About Light Therapy?
Light Therapy is also being tested as to whether it can help alleviate and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms. Initial research suggests that it can help improve the cognitive functions of people who suffer from these conditions5,7,11.
Light Therapy for Treating Alzheimer’s
The results of the first human trial to report on significant cognitive improvements among AD patients, thanks to Light Therapy, were published in 2017.
This seminal study involved 5 patients that presented with mild to moderately severe dementia and possible AD. Researchers noted that Light Therapy shows promise and potential for home treatment of dementia and AD, however, to really understand the effects of Light Therapy on dementia and AD patients, studies with larger sample size are needed11.
Patients received Light Therapy for 3 months, once per week in-clinic and daily at-home treatments. The treatments were performed with transcranial and intranasal Light Therapy devices (light was emitted through the skull and the nose)11.
In the followup 1 month period after the treatments, researchers noted that AD patients experienced increased cognitive function11, and also:
- Patients’ sleep improved11
- They were less anxious or prone to angry outbursts11
- They wandered less11, a common behavior among people with AD that can cause considerable risk for the patient and is often a major concern for caregivers4,13.
Overall, the study results suggested that Light Therapy showed functional improvements in Alzheimer’s patients. Importantly, no adverse effects were observed among treated patients.
What About AD Patients’ Memory?
A second small pilot, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial from 2017 sought to investigate if Light Therapy may benefit dementia patients (caused by Alzheimer’s) for their memory and cognitive skills. Patients underwent almost 30 consecutive, 6-minute transcranial Light Therapy sessions, and the results were encouraging:
- Patients experienced positive changes in executive functioning (functions that direct goal-oriented behavior important in daily functioning)5;
- Improved scores on the clock-drawing test (used to screen patients with dementia)5;
- Improvements in immediate recall test (used for memory performance)5;
- Improved visual attention and task switching scores (a measure of executive functioning).
The study also noted that neuroplasticity was improved (the ability of the brain to grow and optimize neurons in the brain10 and that the mitochondria (which provide energy for the brain) were enhanced5.
So, science is more evident than ever that Light Therapy has a vast potential for treating brain-related illnesses. Light Therapy can help to reduce oxidative stress, resolve inflammation, and alleviate symptoms of brain-degenerative conditions. That makes this technology a beacon of hope to delay the onset of AD symptoms potentially, or even entirely prevent brain degeneration and cognitive decline5,7,11.
What Can You Do Personally?
There’s plenty you can do personally, throughout your lifetime, to hopefully prevent developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.
No matter how old you are, you can always commit to learning and reading. Reading is a fantastic brain exercise where besides you get to learn new things, you also strengthen your brain’s neural pathways and create new ones1. Learning a new language can also be beneficial. Research hints that bilingualism might delay the onset of Alzheimer’s for more than 4 years6.
Commit to protecting your brain health long-term. Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Release stress. Meditate. Quit smoking. Cut on sugar. Learn all early symptoms of Alzheimer’s since early detection is critical to slow its progression2.
Light Therapy also has the potential to aid in the fight against Alzheimer’s, and researchers around the world are working towards getting a better understanding of the full effects of Light Therapy on the brain. So far, the evidence has been encouraging.
At any time, feel free to reach our team via Facebook and Twitter and ask any questions you might have related to Alzheimer’s and your health. Follow the Light Lounge blog to get the latest updates from the world of science.