The Effects of Light on Dementia


Dementia, a mental disorder primarily impacting the elderly, currently affects 47.5 million people worldwide. Afflicted individuals in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are particularly vulnerable to negative health and quality of life issues related to eating, sleeping, and other routine activities. According to a recent review by the Alzheimer’s Association, however, the disorder’s negative impacts can be minimized with appropriate care.

The review covered many quasi-experimental studies, all of which assessed various interventions for dementia-related psychiatric and behavioral symptoms. Addressed were issues related to eating, drinking, toilet usage, and sleeping.  In these studies, bright light therapy was the primary intervention for dementia-related sleep issues.

The Use of Light Therapy to Treat Sleep Disorders

Light therapy exposes subjects to controlled quantities of bright light for a specified period of time. The illumination, which mimics natural daylight, is intended to promote proper functioning of circadian rhythms, our biological timekeepers that help regulate sleep.

In total, there were nine studies and four reviews, the majority of which focused on the impact of bright light. While some of the tests were inconclusive, most offered positive results.

Key Findings

  • Residents exposed to bright light benefited from improved circadian functioning and sleep.
  • Results from five of the studies indicated that bright light exposure during the daytime is conducive to longer periods of sleep at night. In one of these studies, bright light proved beneficial for subjects with vascular dementia. Another study demonstrated that the treatment contributed to improved sleep for residents with Alzheimer’s.
  • Improved sleep was seen in subjects during a study of bright light exposure in resident living areas. An equally successful outcome was achieved for residents exposed to bright light during breakfast and medication administration. In a fifth study, which was a randomized, controlled trial, improved nocturnal sleep was seen in residents exposed to bright light for two hours in the morning.

Lighting the Way for Improved Quality of Life

Light therapy in no way purports to be a cure or even a treatment for dementia. It does, however, offer promising results when utilized to address one of the daily activities negatively impacted by the disorder – sleep. Of course, there is much territory yet to be explored. Nevertheless, initial findings thus far have been extraordinarily encouraging.

Beyond the Lab and Into Your Home

A growing body of knowledge reveals a direct, causal relationship between light, circadian rhythms, and sleep. This knowledge has important applications in your own home. Biologically-correct HealthE bulbs from Lighting Science, for instance, are scientifically proven to promote optimum circadian rhythm functioning. The Awake & Alert lamp emulates natural daylight to help maintain proper energy and alertness levels throughout the day. When our circadian rhythms shift into ‘evening mode’, the Sleep Lamp promotes quicker, longer-lasting sleep required for a full night of quality rest.

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