Infrared light therapy may have the potential to help people with dementia, according to researchers. A pilot study has found that it produces improvements in memory, motor function and processing ability in healthy people with normal intellectual function for their age, they publish in the journal ‘Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine and Laser Surgery’.
Thus, the researchers claim that transcranial photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T) – in which infrared light is self-administered to the brain via a specially designed helmet worn by the patient – could also have benefits for people with dementia.
The authors of the study, led by Dr. Paul Chazot of Durham University (UK) and Dr. Gordon Dougal of Maculume Ltd, stress that more research is needed on the use and effectiveness of the therapy, but that the results of their pilot trial are promising.
In the research, 14 healthy people over the age of 45 from the UK received six minutes of PBM-T twice daily at a wavelength of 1,068 nanometers over a four-week period. This was carried out together with a control group of 13 members who wore a dummy PBM-T helmet.
The scientists conducted a series of memory, verbal and motor skills tests on participants in both groups before and after the treatment period to see what improvements in function might have been achieved.
The researchers found a significant improvement in motor function performance (finger tapping), memory performance (mathematical processing, a type of working memory), delayed memory and brain processing speed, in the healthy people who had received PBM-T compared to those in the placebo control group. Participants reported no adverse effects caused by the treatment.
Dr. Paul Chazot, co-director of the research and a member of the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, says they have demonstrated what appears to be a good idea for the future: “We have shown what appear to be real improvements in memory and other neurological processes in healthy people when their brains are exposed to a specific wavelength of infrared light for short, consistent periods.”
Although this is a pilot study and further research is needed, there are promising indications that infrared light therapy may also be beneficial for people with dementia, something worth exploring,” he continues. In fact, we and our U.S. research collaborators have recently published a new independent clinical study that provides the first evidence of a profound and rapid improvement in memory performance in dementia.”
The doctor notes that it is known that infrared light of certain wavelengths can help alleviate nerve cell damage, amyloid burden and reduced blood flow in the brain, which are common in people with dementia, so he wonders if it could be used as a game-changing form of multimodal therapy.
“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, devised by Dr. Dougal, who is also a practicing general practitioner in County Durham, UK, works by delivering infrared light from 14 arrays of fan-cooled LED lights deep in the brain, focused by the skull, at a wavelength of between 1,060 and 1,080 nanometers, delivering 1,368 J of energy to the skull during each six-minute treatment cycle.
This stimulates the mitochondria, which generate most of the chemical energy needed for the cells’ biochemical reactions. This, in turn, raises the level of an organic compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), markedly diminished in dementia patients, which provides the energy needed to drive processes in living cells and help nerve cells repair themselves.
The researchers say the therapy can also increase nitric oxide levels and thus blood flow in the brain by improving the flexibility of the membrane lining the inside of blood vessels. This opens up the blood vessels so that more oxygen can reach the white matter deep in the brain.
Patients can easily wear the helmet, which means the therapy can be easily administered at home. Researchers believe it could also be beneficial for other disorders, such as Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury or motor neuron disease. Each helmet costs approximately £7,250 to purchase.
Research co-leader Dr. Gordon Dougal, of Maculume Ltd, notes that “current clinical practice can only pave the way for optimal recovery, with little or no effect on cellular function. Laboratory work exploring the mechanism of action of PBM-T1068 indicates that this therapeutic tool could help dying brain cells to regenerate and become functional units.”
However, he specifies that “much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action.”
This pilot study follows 20 years of work by Dr. Chazot to identify, develop and validate a particular wavelength of infrared light for use in dementia therapy through a series of preclinical in vitro and in vivo studies.
These studies demonstrated for the first time that PBM-T with a specific wavelength improved memory performance and reduced beta-amyloid – a membrane protein that normally plays an essential role in neuronal growth and repair, but can later enlarge and destroy nerve cells, leading to loss of thinking and memory in Alzheimer’s disease – in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
The latest results also follow the publication of pilot clinical studies on Alzheimer’s disease in which Drs. Chazot and Dougal participated.
Published in the journals ‘Cureus’ and ‘Aging and Disease,’ and led by Jason Huang, Ph.D., of Texas A&M University, those results suggest that PBM-T1068-also known as transcranial near-infrared (tNIR) treatment-had a similar profound and rapid positive effect on the disease in both men and women with mild to moderate dementia.
In the ‘Cureus’ study, for example, 39 patients received six minutes of PBM-T twice a day for eight weeks, along with a control group of 17 patients wearing a dummy helmet.
On the Mini-Mental State Exams (MMSE), women who received the treatment showed a 20% improvement, while in men there was a 19% improvement (an increase of 4.8 MMSE units), with only an eight-week treatment. This compares with an improvement of 6.5% in women and 5.9% in men in the control group, respectively.
After two to three weeks, participants reported more energy, higher mood and less anxiety, along with better physical and mental involvement in daily activities. Caregivers also noted improved mood.