Published on: October 17, 2015
by Julia Little for Sunrise Senior Living:
Academics from the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute conducted a study that sought to determine the effects of blue, shortwave light on the sleeping patterns of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. The impetus for the research is the tendency for Alzheimer’s patients to wake up frequently during the night. Such an irregular sleep pattern takes a heavy toll on the seniors’ well-being and on that of the senior caretakers responsible for them. The center’s research built off that of previous studies that showed how increased light exposure during the daytime could adjust the circadian rhythms of seniors with dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease and poor sleep
People with Alzheimer’s disease experience disturbances during the sleep/wake cycle. A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington found that older adults with late-stage Alzheimer’s get significantly less REM sleep than seniors without the disease. The researchers noted that sleeping during the day did not significantly make up for the lost sleep during the nighttime.
Blue and red light
To monitor the effects of blue light at the LRC, a control group was exposed only to red light, which is a medium wavelength. Blue is the shortest wavelength humans can see and red is the longest visible wavelength. Anything shorter would be ultraviolet and anything longer would be infrared.
The four seniors who participated in the experiment were exposed to red light for two hours before sleeping every day for a 10-day period. After that, they followed the same routine, but with blue lighting. The results indicated that the participants slept better for two to four hours after exposure and were more awake during the day. This routine could work well alongside other dementia care strategies.
A 24-hour light cycle
One of the researchers from this project went on to perform another study to test the efficiency of a 24-hour lighting scheme. The proposed scheme exposes seniors with Alzheimer’s to white light for two hours during the day and blue light during other times of the day. Nightlights would be included to prevent falls during the evening. The study showed that regimented, changing lighting patterns are more beneficial than static, dim conditions. Further research is ongoing.
This subject of research is promising. A separate team from the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School conducted a similar study and found that bright light pulses in the evening led Alzheimer’s patients to have fewer sleep/wake cycle disturbances.
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