Study: Light therapy helps reduce dementia symptoms

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Following the promising results of a small pilot study, senior living provider Ecumen said it will be incorporating light therapy into a care program that emphasizes managing dementia without highly sedating drugs.

The study found that light therapy can improve nighttime sleep and reduce agitation among residents with dementia, who often spend their nights awake and their days asleep.

At three communities, bright light tablets were placed in memory care residents' rooms and in common areas where small group activities are held. Residents were exposed to the bright lights, on average, for 30 minutes a day during daylight savings time and one hour otherwise.

The study found an almost 60% reduction in episodes of sleep disturbance and 32% fewer behavioral episodes compared with baseline measures, according to Ecumen. Also, the use of antipsychotic medications decreased by 11% during the research period. Residents who participated in the study showed no adverse effects from the exposure to bright lights, Ecumen said.

“We're very encouraged by the results,” said Sonya DeSmith, the quality improvement nurse who supervised the study. “Our sample size was small, but based on the data and the anecdotal observations by our nurses, we plan to promote the therapy across all our sites. We view this as another tool in the tool box of evidence-based, non-drug interventions for residents with dementia.” The project will be incorporated into the provider's Awakenings initiative.

Three sites at which the study was conducted are Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City, MN; Ecumen Detroit Lakes; and Ecumen-managed Grand Village in Grand Rapids, MN. The light therapy program ran from April to December 2015 under a $29,800 grant from the LeadingAge Innovations Fund.

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