Seniors are encouraged to do a range of things to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease as they transition into their golden years: switch to heart and brain healthy diets, start aspirin regimens, aggressively lower blood pressure, and maintain consistent mental stimulation. But what happens to those that end up developing Alzheimer’s disease as they age, regardless or preventative measures? New research and kinds of Alzheimer's Therapy are attempting to minimize symptoms and maximize comfort.
The role of music in helping to treat and relieve symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease is one of the newer and more notable treatments to help seniors that are suffering. The incredible transformations of music therapy has been shown to completely turn around the quality of life of many seniors living with Alzheimer's.
Tailored Lighting as Alzheimer's Therapy
Lighting Intervention acts in the same way as music therapy for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine undertook a multi-year study involving 43 seniors suffering from neurological diseases in several different living environments to discover the importance of lighting in relation to sleep, mood, and behavior.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s typically suffer from sleep problems, aimless wandering, and general irritability that can present night or day. Utilizing specifically tailored daytime lighting patterns, researchers attempted to improve on these behavioral and sleep issues.
What they found is incredible. While it’s not an instant “flip of the switch” like music therapy can sometimes be for Alzheimer’s patients, tailored lighting often led to equally staggering results. Compared to standard and inactive lightning conditions, seniors saw significantly decreased issues related to sleep disturbances, depression, and overall anxiety.
“Here we show that if the stimulus (lighting) is carefully delivered and measured, it can have a strong impact on sleep, depression, and agitation,” said principal investigator and lead author Mariana Figueiro, PhD, a professor and director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “Depression was a secondary measure, and I was pleasantly surprised by the positive impact of the light treatment on depression scores.”
What Did the Study Involve?
The study involved a total of 43 seniors that had been positively diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Each individual was exposed to an active and inactive tailored lighting for 4-week periods, followed by a 4-week period. The tailored lighting program was added to locations in which the seniors spent most of their time when awake (i.e. the living room), and actively ran until 6 pm. Personal light meters monitored light exposures for each senior. Measures of sleep, mood, and agitation were taken weekly based on several indexes.
The abstract from the tests and overall research results are publicly available in an online supplement of the journal Sleep.
Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference, the researchers saw substantial improvement in the patient's sleep, mood, and agitation levels. The largest improvements came in the form of improved sleep schedules.
What it Means for Alzheimer’s Patients
By far the most important takeaway from the study is that Alzheimer’s patients can realistically have restful nights of sleep without heavy drug intervention. Severe lack of sleep and overall irritability contribute to neurological decline in Alzheimer’s patients, so lighting therapy could realistically slow the development of the disease. Heather Snyder, Ph.D., the Senior Director of Medical and Scientific Operations for the Alzheimer’s Association said:
"This is sort of a low-tech way that really could address some of these symptoms that are so troubling and difficult for people to sometimes manage, it’s not just turning the lights on longer. It's actually changing the type of light as well as the duration -- during wake-hours, you have more exposure to this type of light.”
Put simply, controlling intensity and type of light being used in a care facility or at home can result in major improvement in three major measurables (sleep, mood, and agitation) related to Alzheimer’s. Changing light bulbs leads to a higher overall level of happiness, greatly improved sleeping habits, and significantly less irritability.
In the future, this could lead to “prescription” lighting solutions. But in the here and now, it serves as an excellent reminder that light is a major synchronizer for our circadian rhythms. If you have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s it is important to ensure they are getting ample amounts of light during their waking hours.
If you would like to explore lightning therapy as an option for your loved one, or if you are looking for a provider for live-in care in Orlando with experience caring for individuals with Alzheimer's, American In-Home Care can help. We refer qualified and compassionate care providers that are matched directly with your loved one's personality and needs. We can refer care providers that specialize in Alzheimer's and dementia care, and who have training and continuing education in this area to ensure they provide the highest quality of care to your loved one, and that you and your loved one are in the best hands.