A Dutch study has shown promising results in increasing the quality of life for people with Alzheimer's. MSNBC.com reported on the study in an article titled "Bright lights slow dementia patients' decline." The Dutch study also used the hormone melatonin, which has been shown to help the body regulate sleep cycles. In this study, the combination of the two - lights and melatonin - showed as much improvement in the person with Alzheimer's as many showed with some drugs. Unlike drugs, there were no side effects.
Some people do very well on drug therapy, and it's not likely their doctors will want to take them off in order to experiment, especially since it has been shown that going off the medications, and then returning to them, can sometimes lose ground for the patient.
However, a person with the disease is unlikely to suffer negatively if this combination is added to his or her routine. Even if the doctor decides not to use melatonin, the idea of lights seems very good.
People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression, often find that using special lights that mimic daylight during the dark winter months will control their depression. The lights literally brighten their mood.
Why wouldn't these lights be ideal for people with Alzheimer's? Depression is often part of aging, and especially dementia. At least trying them couldn't hurt. If a particular person find bright lights stressful, the experiment won't have done any lasting harm. You would simply try dimmer lights or discontinue using lights as therapy.
I'm wishing now that we'd tried brighter lighting with both of my parents. They had windows by their beds, but many in nursing homes are in rooms where they do not. And we in the northern part of the world have significant numbers of people with SAD during the long winter months. Because of this, even those living in a home with many windows can suffer from light deprivation.
It seems to me that sometimes we, and that includes the medical community, are so baffled by the disease of Alzheimer's and other dementias, that simple things that help people with issues not directly related to Alzheimer's disease can be overlooked.
Depression is common with Alzheimer's and other dementia. Why not try bright lights, music, massage, good nutrition, perhaps augmented by frequent gifts of flowers and plants? These, in addition to modern medicine at its best, may increase the quality of life for those struggling with the losses Alzheimer's and other dementias bring.
Published On: June 21, 2008