Dementia is one of the most common age-related, degenerative diseases of the brain. Worldwide, dementia affects the brains of almost 48 million people6. Projections by the World Health Organization hint that this number will triple by 2050.
Dementia describes a broad category of syndromes, usually of a chronic and progressive nature, that leads to a gradual decrease in the patient’s ability to think and remember, severe enough to affect daily functioning1,12.
Dementia appears in many forms; however, a stunning 70% of cases are due to Alzheimer’s6. Alzheimer’s is a progressive condition where brain cells degenerate and die, thus causing dementia. Therefore, dementia can also be described as an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under12.
The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia6, which occurs due to brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain13. Similar to Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia causes problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory. The difference is that the brain has been compromised by impaired blood flow to the brain due to damage such as from stroke13.
People can also develop more than one type of dementia, which is called mixed dementia. Mixed dementia is the result of multiple health conditions contributing to the development of dementia12. Other degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s (that affects the nervous system) and Huntington’s (a genetic disorder that affects brain cells) can also cause dementia. Nevertheless, each cause of dementia causes damage to a different set of brain cells12.
Dementia is caused by damage to, or abnormal changes in, the brain. The brain can suffer a neural and synaptic loss (synapses are what brain neurons use to communicate). One of the causes of neural and synaptic loss is the buildup of Beta-amyloid (Aβ), a protein that forms senile plaques in the brains of people with AD/dementia4. These are extracellular deposits of protein in the gray matter (i.e., neurons) of the brain which interfere with brain functions, they can also be the byproduct of aging11.
Aβ buildups also induce excessive inflammation14 and increase oxidative stress9, which contributes to brain damage. Early detection of Aβ plaques is critical as timely prevention may help the patient in obtaining early treatment and potentially slow the development of the neurodegenerative condition and may slow cognitive performance decline.
What research has confirmed so far is that Light Therapy may reduce the debilitating effects of these harmful brain plaques among mice4. Further research is needed to see if Light Therapy may help reduce this harmful protein buildup among humans, too.
Reduced Aβ plaques have been associated with limited brain neurodegeneration, improved memory, cognitive function, and basic motor skills among mice due to Light Therapy5,7.
Last but not least, dementia patients show decreased oscillations in the gamma frequency band, which are electrical brain wave recordings. These are higher in health folks8,2.
Gamma oscillations are measured by electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain. The gamma frequency band of electrical brain activity is considered important for memory and attention8,2.
More lab research on mice suggests that Light Therapy, combined with sound therapy, can boost gamma oscillation, and may help alleviate the effects frontotemporal dementia (dementia affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain) and Alzheimer’s disease8,2.
The evidence is piling up and showing that Light Therapy has huge potential as a possible means to alleviate some conditions caused by dementia. Light Therapy may help to reduce oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, or reduce the damaging effects of harmful brain plaques. These results suggest that Light Therapy may reduce the effects of dementia.
Light Therapy has the potential to intervene where previous pharmaceutical efforts have failed3. For example, antibody therapy and vaccines administrated to decrease the buildup of brain plaques have not been successful after considerable efforts3. That is one of the reasons that drives researchers to explore the potentials of Light Therapy to see how it can help aid the fight against dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions.
Treatments for dementia may depend on what causes dementia, although many treatments for dementia will overlap with those for Alzheimer’s12.
In most cases, dementia is difficult to prevent10. However, a healthy lifestyle is the best prevention we can take against dementia. Even though the future is out of our control, we can take steps to lower the risks for neurodegenerative diseases. You can’t change your genetics, but you can change your lifestyle!
Maintain a healthy weight and eat healthy foods. Address any chronic issues you may have (e.g., high cholesterol and high blood pressure)10.
As with any condition that can cause cognitive decline, staying mentally engaged and socially active can be helpful. So, read, learn new hobbies, solve puzzles, engage in community activities, and/or join support groups10.
Whether you have any questions related to conditions such as dementia, please feel free to reach our team via Facebook and Twitter. Follow the Light Lounge blog to get the latest research on Light Therapy from around the world. Our team uses data and research from peer-reviewed journals and unbiased world-class research institutions.