It's a tough go. First to hit is the forgetfulness. Then, well - it's hard to remember exactly what comes next. But, in the end, many of the elderly find themselves whisked away from the comfortable surroundings of home and shuffled off to a strange new place. Once they settle into the new assisted living facility or nursing home, things often just get worse. Their memory problems accelerate, they become easily confused and, just weeks after having lived on their own, they're diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia.
It's a difficult progression - for the elderly patient and for the family. While there's no way, currently, to guarantee people can ward off the effects of age, there is hope they can be slowed. New research indicates that light has a powerful impact on elderly dementia patients.
Scientists from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, in Amsterdam, studied 189 residents, mostly women, living in group homes in the Netherlands. They assessed the impact of both light and melatonin on the elderly patients. Melatonin is a hormone produced by a small gland in the brain. It is found naturally in some foods, including meats, grains, fruits and vegetables, and is also available as a dietary supplement. Melatonin plays a key role in regulating circadian rhythms, the body's sleep and wake cycles.
The study showed that patients exposed to bright daytime light did much better than those who were not exposed. The light was both natural, from large windows, and artificial, from fluorescent lights. Those exposed to the light exhibited 5% less mental deterioration than those not exposed. Most significantly, they showed a 19% reduction in depressive symptoms, and a 53% slowing of their loss of ability to cope with daily life issues compared to the non-exposed.
The best result came for those treated with both light and melatonin. They were less aggressive, slept better and were less restless.
Life is not perfect. There is no turning back the hands of time. But, with a little extra knowledge about how the brain works, we can help those we love live a more peaceful life. So, go ahead - forget the energy crunch and turn up the lights...To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about melatonin, see this from the Mayo Clinic.