Red light therapy for dementia

May 30 | Tom Harvey

Red light therapy (RLT) has recently grown in popularity thanks to its numerous benefits, including reducing fine lines, quickening the healing of wounds, and much more. Many users swear by its dermatological benefits, but these advantages beg the question: what else can red light therapy be used for?

Researchers have been looking into the use of RLT on dementia patients to see if it can reduce symptoms and relieve the adverse effects of various neurodegenerative diseases.

Initial studies suggest that red light therapy is both safe and beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. It appeared to improve cognitive function and allowed patients to carry out more daily activities, improving certain aspects of their lives. While more research is needed to confirm these findings, they help build a promising case for using red light therapy to reduce dementia symptoms.

What is red light therapy?

Red light therapy exposes your skin to a low level of red LED light, which has been used to reduce a number of skin ailments such as scars, wrinkles, and acne. Used as a cosmetic therapy for decades, researchers have only recently been looking into its benefits for other health issues.

However, these studies take years to complete so we’re still working on initial findings and indications. Hopefully, the future will hold more concrete evidence of the effectiveness of red light therapy on things such as dementia and heart conditions.

How does red light therapy work?

Red light therapy works by exposing the body’s cells to the low level LED light, which beams the light into the mitochondria of the cell. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, so the more energy you introduce to the mitochondria, the more efficiently they can work. Your cells work to repair themselves and create more wherever necessary in the body, so the quicker you can get them working, the better.

The more red light you expose your body to, the more energy your cells can benefit from. Since the cells closest to the skin will absorb the most red light, these should be the ones that benefit the most – hence why there’s so much research already done on the effectiveness of red light therapy and skin ailments.

However, new research concerning RLT on dementia symptoms shows that it might not just be beneficial for cosmological enhancements. It could have the potential to influence the symptoms of life-changing diseases.

What are some of the potential benefits of using red light therapy with dementia patients?

Can heal parts of the brain affected by dementia

Studies have suggested that using low level laser therapy around the brain can improve mild to moderate dementia symptoms by increasing the blood flow and metabolism to the brain. These benefits are said to gently stimulate parts of the brain that have been previously broken down by dementia.

There is even more evidence to suggest that red light therapy can help heal parts of the brain that have been adversely affected by traumatic brain injury. While this is not the same as dementia, their symptoms tend to be similar and therefore the effectiveness of RLT in traumatic brain injury healing can indicate it might work the same way with dementia patients.

RLT might be able to reduce inflammation in the brain

There have been quite a few studies to suggest that RLT can improve inflammation around the body, so it makes sense that it might be able to work within the brain, too. Inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of a decline in cognitive function, which can contribute to the likelihood of developing dementia.

Has the potential to reduce dementia symptoms

A small number of studies have suggested that red light therapy can reduce restlessness and disturbed sleep in people with dementia. Other benefits included better cognitive function, improved mood, fewer angry bursts and anxiety attacks, and fewer wandering incidents. Some of these symptoms can be very distressing for patients and loved ones, so the possibility of reducing them can be hopeful for many.

Scientific evidence and findings on the impact red light therapy has on dementia symptoms

At this current time, there aren’t too many studies showing the effects of red light therapy on dementia symptoms. However, one pilot study looking into near infrared light therapy on Alzheimer’s disease has shown promising results. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

As a pilot study, only 20 participants were used. They all had mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and were split into an intervention and control group. The results showed that red light therapy was safe and potentially beneficial to Alzheimer’s disease patients, indicating that it could improve cognitive function and ease of daily living activities.

A pilot study uses a deliberately small number of participants to see if there is a reason to launch a bigger study to further research the initial findings. This study was successful in doing so, with the researchers now launching a double-blind clinical trial with a larger sample of Alzheimer’s patients.

Are there any potential risks or precautions to consider?

There are minimal risks to consider when it comes to red light therapy because the majority of treatments use low levels of light, so there shouldn’t be a risk of overexposure when using the RLT unit for less than 30 minutes at a time.

However, some people have reported incidents of burns, blisters, and legions from red light therapy. These are more likely to occur when you use an RLT unit for longer than 30 minutes at a time or when using a faulty machine with subpar wiring or increased corrosion.

Surprisingly, quite a few of these reports were filed after the patient had fallen asleep within the RLT unit. As dementia patients can suffer from memory loss, it’s vital that they tell someone when they are beginning RLT and when they need to be out of the machine. This person should make sure that the patient does not exceed their recommended treatment time.

People with dementia, especially in the later stages, can sleep more often than people without it. This increases the risk of the patient falling asleep while undergoing RLT, which can increase the likelihood of them exceeding their advised treatment time.

How often should you consider using red light therapy for dementia?

There is currently no research into the best amount of red light therapy for dementia patients, as studies on this topic are so sparse. However, a trial that is aiming to use 228 patients in the US and Canada is currently recruiting volunteers that will receive 20 minutes of RLT, six days a week for 12 weeks. This indicates that experts believe this is the ideal frequency for how often dementia patients should use RLT.

The good thing about RLT is that there is no maximum cap on exposure within a week. You can use RLT units every day of the week if you’d like, as long as you don’t exceed 30 minutes of treatment at one time. Exceeding this treatment time might increase the risk of burns.

As with any treatment, it is always recommended that you talk to a healthcare professional before starting red light therapy for dementia symptoms. While it is considered a safe therapy, there might be more effective alternatives available to you that your doctor will be able to discuss with you.

Our in-house experts’ tips for using red light therapy to help with dementia symptoms

Tom Harvey, co-founder and co-director of TH7 says:

Final thoughts

There are currently very exciting developments occurring between dementia symptoms and the use of red light therapy. While studies are still limited, the initial findings have proved to be so intriguing that they’ve kickstarted a number of larger trials to explore how red light therapy can be used in the future to combat dementia symptoms. Even the Alzheimer’s Society has recognised the promise RLT is currently showing in this regard, although more evidence is needed before they can recommend it as a treatment plan.

Red light therapy is largely safe for the majority of people with very few risk factors. However, depending on the severity of dementia symptoms, you may need to make sure someone is monitoring the patient at all times through the therapy treatment. This is to avoid overexposure to the light, which can cause burns, blisters, and damage to eyesight.