Elderly people who have found their eyesight degenerate with age could be offered hope in the form of a small, inexpensive torch. The deep red light emitted from an LED could help to reverse declining eyesight, according to a study by scientists at University College London (UCL).
The researchers found that spending three minutes a day staring at a light with a long wavelength “significantly improved vision” in people over 40-years-old. This theory was borne out across the sample of 24 individuals who took part in the experiment.
Such a discovery could have a big impact on the therapies offered to treat those with vision problems as they get older. At around 40, the retina starts to deteriorate, but the LED torch could represent an affordable way to reverse the damage and it could even be carried out by the patient in their own home.
Professor Glen Jeffery, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and lead author of the study, said: "As you age, your visual system declines significantly, particularly once over 40. Your retinal sensitivity and your colour vision are both gradually undermined, and with an ageing population, this is an increasingly important issue.
"To try to stem or reverse this decline, we sought to reboot the retina's ageing cells with short bursts of longwave light."
The participants in the study ranged in age from 28 to 72 and had not been diagnosed with any ocular diseases. Over the course of two weeks, they each spent three minutes a day looking directly at the 670nm light beam emitted from their torch.
Colour vision and vision at low light were both tested before the individuals took part in the therapy and again afterwards. Colour detection improved by up to 20 per cent in the over-40s and the ability to see in low light was better too, although not as dramatically as the gains in colour vision.
The individuals under the age of 40 who took part did not have any improvements in their vision, whether it was detecting colours or seeing things in low light. This demonstrates that it is ageing that was reversed and not other issues with vision.
Prof Jeffery added: "Our study shows that it is possible to significantly improve vision that has declined in aged individuals using simple brief exposures to light wavelengths that recharge the energy system that has declined in the retina cells, rather like recharging a battery.
"The technology is simple and very safe, using a deep red light of a specific wavelength, that is absorbed by mitochondria in the retina that supply energy for cellular function.
"Our devices cost about £12 to make, so the technology is highly accessible to members of the public."