We’re working on a new infrared light therapy that might have the potential to help people with dementia.
People wear a specially adapted helmet which delivers infrared light deep into the brain for six-minutes per treatment.
This stimulates mitochondria that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the biochemical reaction in the brain’s cells.
Our researchers say this can lead to a rise in the level of an organic compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is markedly decreased in dementia patients, provides energy to drive processes in living cells and helps nerve cells repair.
The therapy can also increase levels of nitric oxide, and therefore blood flow in the brain, by improving the flexibility of the membrane that lines the inside of blood vessels. This opens up blood vessels so more oxygen can reach the white matter deep in the brain.
The helmet can be easily worn by patients, meaning the therapy can be readily delivered at home.
In their latest pilot study the team found improvements in healthy people, aged 45 and over, who received six minutes of therapy twice daily at a wavelength of 1068 nanometres over a period of four weeks.
This included a signiﬁcant improvement in performance in motor function (finger tapping), memory performance (mathematical processing, a type of working memory), delayed memory and brain processing speed.
Our researchers have also been involved in two recently published, separate pilot Alzheimer’s disease clinical studies in the USA looking at the effectiveness of the therapy.
Those studies found a similar profound and rapid positive effect for both men and women with mild to moderate dementia.
Participants reported having more energy, elevated mood and less anxiety, along with better physical and mental involvement in daily activities. Improved mood was also noted by their caregivers.
Our scientists stress that more research into the use and effectiveness of the therapy is needed, but that their early findings are promising.
They also think the therapy might have potential benefits for other disorders like Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury or motor neurone disease.
Grandmother Tracy Sloan (pictured above) began using the infrared light therapy helmet to help improve her memory.
After wearing the helmet for a few weeks she said she noticed improvements in remembering simple messages, which previously she would have had to write down or she would have forgotten them.
She also noticed that her sleep and moods improved.
Tracy, 56, a GP practice administrator from Peterlee, County Durham, UK, is in general good health and has no diagnosed condition that would affect her memory. She was introduced to the therapy by Dr Dougal.
She wore the helmet morning and night for six minutes each time over a period of three months.
Tracy, who has two daughters and two grandsons, said: “I have a bad memory to start with and I think as you get older it gets no better, so I thought I would give the therapy a go.
“I wasn’t sure it would make a difference, but to be honest I think it did.
“After a few weeks I noticed that my sleeping pattern was better, I felt more relaxed and I had more energy.
“I’m not a moody person, but my youngest daughter said that I wasn’t as moody and my manager at the time used to laugh and say that the therapy must be working because I didn’t need to write things down.”
Tracy no longer uses the therapy after her trial period and thinks that her poor memory has returned since she stopped.
She added: “I would love to use it again because it did help me, without a doubt.
“If people are able to afford something like this and it makes your quality of life a lot better then I would say definitely give it a go.”