Study: Bright light therapy reduces depression and agitation in dementia sufferers

Dementia is most often associated with memory loss, but seniors who suffer from the condition also experience depression and agitation. These symptoms are often treated with medication. But results of a new study, a collaboration between Radford University and CCR (Commonwealth Care of Roanoke), indicate bright light therapy reduces depression and agitation in dementia sufferers. The pioneering study was funded in part by an award from the Virginia Alzheimer's and Related Diseases Research Award Fund and the Radford University Waldron Research Fund*.

Sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) have known for years how beneficial bright lights can be.

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, a registered nurse, 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 teaming up on the study. Onega jumped at the chance to work with CCR, a Roanoke, Virginia-based company that operates twelve nursing and rehabilitation centers across the state. Very little field research existed, so Onega and Epperly were breaking new ground.

Onega conducted the eight-week study at four long-term care facilities managed by CCR. The results showed bright light therapy significantly reduced depression and agitation in the test group by more than half using standardized measurements. Families noticed the difference, and CCR is exploring ways to implement bright light treatment at their 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.


Commonwealth Care of Roanoke


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