New research conducted in the UK has suggested that infrared light therapy could help people living with the symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss and diminished cognitive processing abilities.
The pilot study, which was led by Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University and Dr Gordon Dougal of Maculume Ltd, sought to evaluate the potential benefits of photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T).
This involves delivering infrared light to the brain via a specially designed helmet worn by the patient. The procedure aims to stimulate mitochondria in the brain and increase levels of adenosine triphosphate, which in turn provides the energy required to power living cells and help nerve cells to repair.
Fourteen healthy people over the age of 45 took part in the research, which saw them receive six minutes of PBM-T twice a day over the course of four weeks. At the same time, a control group of 13 people used a dummy PBM-T helmet.
Before and after the treatments, both groups participated in a series of tests evaluating their memory, verbal and motor skills.
The results showed a clear improvement in motor function (assessed through finger tapping), memory performance, delayed memory and brain processing speed in people who had received the infrared light therapy, compared to those in the control placebo group.
Furthermore, there were no adverse effects reported by any of the participants.
Dr Chazot, who is based in the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said the results indicated "real improvements" in memory and other neurological processes for healthy people whose brains are exposed to a particular wavelength of infrared light for short time periods.
While more research is needed, he said there are "promising indications" that this approach could also prove beneficial for people with dementia, an avenue that is "worth exploring".
The team behind this study and their collaborators in the US recently published an independent clinical study supplying the first evidence for "profound and rapid improvement in memory performance in dementia".
"We know that infrared light of particular wavelengths can help alleviate nerve cell damage, amyloid load and reduced blood flow in the brain, which are common in people with dementia, so could it be used as a game-changing multi-modal form of therapy?" Dr Chazot asked.
The PBM-T helmet was designed by Dr Dougal, who is also a GP based in County Durham. One key benefit of the device is that it's not difficult for patients to wear, meaning the infrared light treatment can be easily delivered at home or in non-clinical settings.
It has also been suggested that this therapy could aid the treatment of other disorders and health problems, including Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease and traumatic brain injury.