Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates it affects about 5.7 million Americans of all ages. While most people are familiar with Alzheimer’s symptoms like memory problems, disorientation, confusion, and behavioral changes, others, like sleep difficulties, are not as well known. Alzheimer’s disease can physically damage the brain, including the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which governs our sleep cycle. As a result of this damage, those living with Alzheimer’s can have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. This can cause them to be less rested, making it difficult to cope with the things they need to do in everyday life.
While doctors often prescribe medications to correct sleep patterns, it’s important to note that sleep-inducing medicine can be habit-forming, can create harmful interactions with other drugs, and can impair cognitive function during waking hours. Luckily, recent studies have suggested that full spectrum light therapy may actually be able to affect circadian rhythms in those living with Alzheimer’s, helping them achieve a normal sleep cycle and relieve one of the more common symptoms of the disease.
Light Therapy in Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment
Most animal species on the earth follow a circadian rhythm based on the day/night cycle of their surrounding environment. Because this rhythm is dependent on external light sources, artificial light can actually have a big impact on sleep cycles. You’ve probably observed this phenomenon during daylight savings time or when traveling to a different time zone. Unfortunately for those living with Alzheimer’s with sleep disturbance, their symptoms are like jet lag that never goes away.
Researchers believe the key to this phenomenon is a lack of light. Because people with Alzheimer’s often have difficulty getting around, they’re more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle and stay indoors. This exacerbates sleep difficulties because circadian rhythms are governed by the amount of light hitting the back of the eye. Clinical studies have shown that the more light a person is exposed to, especially in the early morning hours, the more normal and predictable their sleep cycle will be. The data also show that the type of light makes a big difference; full-spectrum white light seems to be the best for relieving Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Light therapy in the early morning was shown to reduce the severity of a number of Alzheimer’s symptoms, including sleep difficulties, moments of upset, aberrant motor behavior, and loss of appetite. While further study is needed, researchers in two different studies even believe morning light therapy could have an impact on depression associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Improved sleep cycles also made in those living with Alzheimer’s more alert during the day, reducing their risk of being injured in a fall.
As you can see, light therapy is showing a lot of promise in the treatment of sleep cycle issues associated with Alzheimer’s disease. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, all of us at American Senior Communities find it so encouraging to see breakthrough research like this being conducted all over the world. With the hard work of researchers like the ones performing the studies mentioned in this blog post, we know the medical science community will continue to get closer every day to unlocking the secrets of Alzheimer’s disease, and hopefully one day, to developing a cure. Due to this research, American Senior Communities uses full spectrum light boxes in all of our Auguste’s Cottages for those residents who we think will benefit. Visit our Memory Care page to learn more about memory care services at American Senior Communities.