Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Friday, July 24, 1998 Published at 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK


Bright idea for Alzheimer's

Treatment may keep Alzheimer's patients out of hospital

Bright light therapy may be an effective way to minimise the suffering of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers have claimed.

Exposure to light may help Alzheimer's sufferers regain sleep-cycle rhythms and may reduce the need for institutional care.

Dutch and Japanese studies show that patients who received two hours of bright light therapy for a month registered improvements in sleep and in body temperature.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease that attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour.

Rhythm disturbances

People afflicted with Alzheimer's often suffer disturbances in circadian (daily) rhythm, which affects body functions such as sleep cycles, temperature, alertness and hormone production.

Impaired sleep and nocturnal restlessness place great burdens on the sufferer and the care giver.

Traditional sedatives have limited usefulness and are accompanied by side effects.

Eus Van Someren, of the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research in Amsterdam, said: "This is an important factor for home care and a major factor on whether people have to be institutionalised.

"Alzheimer's patients often receive very low light and receive little physical activity. Both of these are very important to our biological clocks."

Light bulbs

Some of the Alzheimer's patients studied were placed in front of bright light panels for two-hour periods, while others simply had brighter light bulbs placed in their living rooms.

Both groups showed improvement in their sleep patterns.

Researchers also tested low-level electrical pulse therapy, which helped stimulate circadian rhythm recovery.

Van Someren said outdoor sunlight and exercise also appeared to help restore circadian rhythms, although different patients may need the light therapy at different times of the day.

As many as 25 million people worldwide are estimated to suffer from Alzheimer's. Most sufferers are aged over 65.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes
Relevant Stories

20 Jul 98 | Health
Daffodil and snowdrop drug for memory disease

19 Jun 98 | Health
Smoking may double the risk of Alzheimer's

17 Jun 98 | Health
Drug offers hope for Alzheimer's Disease

05 Jun 98 | Health
Scientists find dementia gene

Internet Links

Alzheimer's Disease Society

Mind, the mental health charity

Alzheimers Disease (AD) and Sundowning

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99