There are many benefits provided to seniors by bright light therapy.

While it may not have been given a lot of attention in the past, bright light therapy (BLT) now seems to hold a great deal of promise for improving the mood and the overall well-being of many seniors. Professional caregivers in the region around Arlington recommend that this form of therapy be considered, either in standalone mode, or in combination with other forms of treatment such as traditional medication, for seniors troubled by depression, dementia, or a general disinterest in life.

Bright light therapy has been used extensively in areas such as Alaska and other places where there is very little daylight for months at a time, and it has been found to be very effective at contributing to mood improvement, and better general health. Now that same therapeutic approach is being adapted for use on other subjects like seniors. In the case of elderly persons, it isn't so much that there is a lack of daylight where they live, but it has more to do with the fact that they are often shut-in, and don't experience the brightness of normal daylight on a regular basis.

Bright Light Therapy and depression 

Some ground-breaking studies conducted in 2011 proved that when seniors were exposed to bright light with items specially designed for the purpose, it improved symptoms of depression by an average of 54%. In order to achieve the benefit of the light therapy, the process was continued each day for three weeks, with seniors receiving one hour of light therapy in the morning of each day. The study showed that seniors also slept better after receiving the therapy and that their serotonin levels increased afterward. Since low serotonin levels contribute to the onset of depression, it's easy to see how raising its level in the body could have the effect of reversing depression.

The reason this is so significant is that some seniors have a tendency to resist taking anti-depressant drugs, and there are many others who simply can't tolerate the medications very well, and have reactions to the treatment. It should be noted that many anti-depressant drugs owe their effectiveness to raising the level of serotonin in the body, just as bright light therapy does.

Exposure to bright light also has the effect of restoring the body's natural circadian rhythms, which are responsible for establishing regular sleeping patterns and waking hours. Seniors who are not exposed to much natural bright daylight, commonly have their circadian rhythms disrupted to some extent, and as a result, they tend to have difficulty sleeping. During the study conducted, light therapy was shown to have the effect of re-establishing normal circadian rhythms in most senior participants, with the result being that they enjoyed better sleep.

Dementia and bright light therapy

Bright light therapy has been shown to be very effective in treating patients with dementia, chiefly in managing the effects of a condition known as sun-downing. This medical condition applies particularly to seniors with dementia because it involves a degradation of cognitive functions and general orientation during the evening hours (hence the name 'sun-downing'), which triggers an increasing sense of anxiety and an urge to wander dangerously from a known safe environment.

Studies have shown that regular bright light therapy treatments can significantly reduce the effects of sun-downing, and contribute to a greater sense of well-being and safety in elderly patients. Other studies seeking to research the connection between bright light and its reception by the eyes, found that placing bright light sources around door frames provided enough of a cue to seniors that they experienced a dramatic reduction in slips and falls around them. 

With regard to the patients involved in the BLT/dementia study, the following benefits were observed: 

  • Increased cognition - patients who were tested with the Mini-Mental State exam demonstrated improved cognition after having been exposed to regular bright light therapy
  • Lessened urge to wander - patients in the study experienced a much lower urge to wander than non-participants during those hours of the evening when sun-downing typically is manifested
  • Better sleep - patients exposed to bright light therapy established normal sleeping cycles and had overall better sleep 
  • Behavioral improvement - there were a number of behaviors which showed remarkable improvement in the dementia patients tested with bright light therapy, including improved appetite, better motor control, less agitation and aggressiveness, and fewer symptoms of depression.

Where to find BLT therapy clinics

There are bright light therapy clinics located all over the country, since so many studies have made it clear that this form of treatment can be extremely beneficial for people of all ages, and especially for seniors. Many sleep centers offer light therapy because one of the primary benefits of light therapy is the restoration of normal sleep patterns. While it may be true that receiving light therapy isn't always as convenient as just visiting your doctor, there are so many clinics established for this purpose now, that there's sure to be one within driving distance for most patients.

There are also a number of products marketed today which can allow you to self-administer bright light therapy right in the comfort of your home, although this should always be under a doctor's supervision, and instructions must be carefully followed, so as not to negate its potential benefits.