Bright Light Therapy Proving Effective Treatment for DementiaOctober 13, 2015
Roanoke, Va. - Dementia is most often associated with memory loss, but seniors who suffer from the condition may also experience depression and agitation, and those symptoms are typically treated with medication. According to the results of a new Radford University and CCR (Commonwealth Care of Roanoke) study, however, bright light therapy may also reduce depression and agitation in dementia sufferers.
Sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have long known the positive impact of bright lights. Bright, full spectrum lighting confers the benefits of sunlight when sunlight is scarce, and SAD sufferers regularly use bright light therapy to combat depression, anxiety, insomnia and other symptoms.
Lora Epperly, RN, wondered if the same therapy could help her dementia patients. Epperly, who also serves as the Director of Business Development and Care Innovations with CCR approached Lisa L. Onega, PhD, RN, a professor at the Radford University School of Nursing, about joining the study, which Onega did enthusiastically. Very little field research existed, so Onega and Epperly were effectively breaking new ground.
Onega conducted the eight-week study - funded in part by an award from the Virginia Alzheimer's and Related Diseases Research Award Fund and the Radford University Waldron Research Fund - at four long-term care facilities managed by CCR, a Virginia-based organization focused on culture change initiatives, quality improvement and maintaining financial viability for long-term care providers within the state.
The results showed bright light therapy significantly reduced depression and agitation in the test group by more than half, using standardized measurements. Patients' families noticed the difference and now CCR is exploring ways to implement bright light treatment at its facilities.
Onega hopes a grant from the National Institutes of Health will spur nationwide interest and more research. For now, the initial results provide a ray of hope for dementia sufferers and the people who care for them, while avoiding use of potentially dangerous or fatal medications.