When you think of Dementia, often the first thing that comes to mind is the associated memory loss that it brings about in those who suffer from the disease. However, there are other symptoms associated with the disease including depression and agitation. These symptoms are often treated with medication, however a study using bright light therapy in patients suffering from dementia conducted at Radford University has shown positive results, including a reduction in depression and agitation.
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.
One of the lead scientists in the study, Lora Epperly, a registered nurse, wanted to use this same type of therapy to assist patients with dementia that are also suffering from mental health difficulties. Epperly approached Lisa L. Onega, a professor at the Radford University School of Nursing, to work collaboratively on the study, as little research is currently available in this field.
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 study came back with positive results showing a significant reduction in depression and agitation in patients undergoing the bright light therapy compared to a control group. A difference in mood was also noticed by families of the individuals suffering from dementia.
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.
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