Infrared light therapy could potentially be used to help people living with dementia, scientists have said. A pilot study used a helmet to beam the light into healthy volunteers' brains and found improvements in their memory, motor function and processing skills. The researchers found 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, in healthy people who had received PBM-T compared to those in the control placebo group.
The research team, led by Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University and GP Dr Gordon Dougal, say transcranial photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T) could benefit people with dementia. In the study, published in the journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine And Laser Surgery, 14 healthy people aged 45 and over received six minutes of PBM-T at a wavelength of 2068 nanometres twice a day for a month. A control group of 13 people were given a dummy helmet to use. Tests on both groups revealed a significant improvement in performance in motor function, memory and brain processing speed in those who used the real helmet compared to those who were given the placebo.
Dr Chazot, who has spent 20 years studying particular infrared wavelengths for dementia treatment, said: "While this is a pilot study and more research is needed, there are promising indications that therapy involving infrared light might also be beneficial for people living with dementia and this is worth exploring. "Indeed, we and our US research collaborators recently also published a new independent clinical study which provides the first evidence for profound and rapid improvement in memory performance in dementia." Particular wavelengths of infrared light are known to help alleviate nerve cell damage, he added.
Dr Dougal devised the £7,250 PBM-T helmet. It delivers infrared light deep into the brain from 14 fan-cooled LED light arrays. The County Durham GP said the helmet "may well help dying brain cells regenerate into functioning units once again". He added: "Much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action."
Tracy Sloan, a 56-year-old grandmother, used one of the helmets to improve her memory. Ms Sloan, who works as a GP's administrator, is healthy and has no diagnosed condition that would affect her memory. But she noted improvement in her daily life after wearing the helmet morning and night for six minutes each time over three months. "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," she said. "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." The team said the findings of their pilot study were promising but stressed that more research was needed. It comes after a study in the US indicated infrared treatment had a positive effect on people with mild to moderate dementia.
'This could provide a novel disease-modifying strategy for dementia, with the potential to alleviate many of the serious problems faced by people with dementia and reduce the burden on their caregivers.' The PBM-T helmet, developed by the firm Maculume, delivers infrared light from 14 fan-cooled LED light arrays. Last year a study in the US on 228 people found infrared treatment had a positive effect on people with mild to moderate dementia. The research is published in the journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine and Laser Surgery.