(Prototype Helmet - Courtesy of University of Sunderland)
It's sounds like something from Star Trek. A geeky looking guy with odd hair, and really strange cloths, listens intently as you talk about your dad's mental decline. Forgetfulness, disorientation, problems completing ordinary tasks. You share your fear it's the beginning of Alzheimer's. He nods, then opens a cabinet and removes a bizarre looking black helmet that appears to have been hastily constructed - in his garage. "Here," he says. "Have your dad wear this for ten minutes each morning. He should be fine in a month or so."
Yes, it sounds far fetched. But...
Researchers at the University of Sunderland, in England, have developed just such a helmet. The prototype helmet uses infrared light to treat patients with dementia. Infrared light is the invisible spectrum of sunlight we experience as heat, and is totally safe at the administered levels. The idea began to take shape following the use of infrared light to treat cold sores. The infrared light boosts the body's ability to produce cells that fight the cold sore virus.
The scientists thought it may also work with brain cells.
Dr. Gordon Dougal, a director of a medical research company working in conjunction with Sunderland, said, "As we get older, cells stop repairing themselves and we age because our cells lose the desire to regenerate and repair themselves. But what if there was a technology that told the cells to repair themselves and that technology was something as simple as a specific wavelength of light? Near infrared light penetrates human tissues relatively well, even penetrating the human skull, just as sunlight passes through frosted glass."
So, the future of dementia treatment looks quite bright. Except, of course, for the geeky looking guy with the odd hair...To read more about the research, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about Alzheimer's, and to find education and treatment resources, see this from the Alzheimer's Association.