PBM For Cognitive Impairment
How can photobiomodulation help for sufferers of cognitive impairment?
Hope for Cognitive Impairment Sufferers
Due to global aging, the number of people with dementia is expected to double every 20 years. People with dementia generally require high levels of care, most of which is provided by informal caregivers (i.e. family and friends). The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 16 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. These informal caregivers, and the loved ones whom they help, are at an increased risk of depression and a variety of other comorbid health complications.
“Even after many years of research, a drug has yet to be developed to benefit …neurodegenerative disorders (such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s).” The few drugs that are prescribed to help with dementia (cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine) work temporarily and can have significant side effects. However, there is growing evidence that supports the use of photobiomodulation as a treatment for dementia.
Evidence of Photobiomodulation as Treatment For Cognitive Impairment
In 2017, Photomedicine and Laser Surgery published a clinical trial on the effects of photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT). Five trial participants received PBMT daily for 12-weeks with a 4-week follow-up period. Each participant had been previously diagnosed with dementia or AD. The study used the Medical Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS-cog) to measure the severity of each participant’s dementia at baseline and after 12 weeks of daily PBMT.
The study found that 12 weeks of daily PBMT significantly improved cognition, sleep and anxiety, and reduced the frequency of wandering as well as angry outbursts. In fact, one participant was excused from the 4-week, no-treatment period because he experienced a significant erosion of the positive effects of his 12-week PBMT. His regression was considered an undue hardship for him and his family, so the participant was permitted to continue daily PMBT. There were no adverse events reported.
What is Cognitive Impairment?
Cognitive Impairment, or Dementia, is a descriptive term for cognitive impairment associated with a loss of ability to perform daily functions, such as paying bills, driving, and getting dressed. Common causes of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. Dementia can also be caused by other conditions such as excessive alcohol use and cerebrovascular strokes.
What is Photobiomodulation?
Photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT) is a safe, non-invasive treatment that has been featured in research since the 1960s. PBMT uses visible, or near-infrared light (NIR) to stimulate, heal and repair damaged or dying cells.
Although many PBMT studies on cognition have been small, their results have been encouraging and warrant the future design of placebo-controlled trials. As the evidence supporting PBMT as a treatment option for dementia continues to grow, it is possible that PBMT for dementia “will become one the of the most important medical applications of light therapy in the coming years and decades.”
How does light therapy work?
PBMT uses light to helps brain cells generate more cell energy, called ATP. PBMT increases the cell’s absorption of photons, which reduces inflammation and increases cerebral blood flow. As a result, PBMT increases brain cells’ ability to self-repair and communicate. Negative side effects have not been reported from the use of PBMT.
It is well known that light helps skin cells produce vitamin D. This is possible because visible light penetrates biological tissues more than one might think. Interestingly, red and near infrared (NIR) light penetrate deeper than green, blue, or violet light. You can visualize this phenomenon by shining a white flashlight through your hand, observing a red glow on the other side (the blue and green wavelengths ‘disappeared’ because they were absorbed).
One case study, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in 2017, documented one AD patient’s response to PBMT. The participant was given a PBMT headset to take home and use 6 times per week for 17 weeks in conjunction with its intranasal device. Improved cognition and quality of life outcomes were noticeable in days, and continued to improve over the 17 weeks of treatment. By the second day of PBMT, the patient reportedly “emerged from silence and started to hold meaningful conversations”. No negative side effects were observed.
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