Light Flash Therapy May Improve Alzheimer’s Disease

Light Flash Therapy May Improve Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the major causes of incurable cognitive (brain) decline in America today. It is very challenging on all members of the family and often takes a team of people to help just one person afflicted.

According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures,

“Millions of Americans are living with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. As the size of the U.S. population age 65 and older continues to increase, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will grow. Both the number and proportion will escalate rapidly in coming years, as the population of Americans age 65 and older is projected to grow from 58 million in 2021 to 88 million by 2050.”

These numbers are why researchers are in a race to cure this terrible disease that robs one in six Americans, eighty years old and up, of their memory.

One promising treatment has surprised many in the field of cognitive study, particularly for its non-invasive, natural approach. This treatment is called flash light therapy or intermittent light exposures and may be a game changer in getting those lost to this disease, back.

The Amyloid Factor

One studied pathological marker of Alzheimer’s disease is the amount of plaque called amyloid found in the brain. It is believed that the amyloid plaque buildup (possibly attributed to poor sleep over a lifetime) is a major player in creating Alzheimer’s as well as other dementias.

Amyloid plaque in the brain (it does form elsewhere in the body as well) is described by the National Institute of Aging,

“In the Alzheimer’s brain, abnormal levels of this naturally occurring protein clump together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function. Research is ongoing to better understand how, and at what stage of the disease, the various forms of beta-amyloid influence Alzheimer’s.”

Now, researchers are looking at how flash light therapy may be able to reverse or clean up the amyloid process. Other factors that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease which may also be affected by flash light therapy are neurofibrillary tangles (abnormal accumulation of proteins called ‘tau’) as well as chronic inflammation. 

Stayin’ Alive

It all started in a tiny makeshift discotheque at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai was experimenting with lab rodents and how they react to amyloid plaque when a discovery was made. The journal Nature describes the event in an article on the subject,

“In March 2015, Li-Huei Tsai set up a tiny disco for some of the mice in her laboratory. For an hour each day, she placed them in a box lit only by a flickering strobe. The mice — which had been engineered to produce plaques of the peptide amyloid-β in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease — crawled about curiously. When Tsai later dissected them, those that had been to the mini dance parties had significantly lower levels of plaque than mice that had spent the same time in the dark.”

Since this response to flash light, research has expanded on searching how to manipulate brain waves and “clean out” amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

Street Cleaning

Currently, testing is underway by several studies looking at the effects of flashing light on the human brain. If the results are similar to preliminary results in laboratory testing, Alzheimer’s and dementia may be closer to a cure than ever before. 

The results of light flash therapy on rodent models showed a reduction in amyloid plaque but it also showed a triggering of other cells known as microglia cells. These cells are exclusive immune cells found in the brain acting as the sanitation workers keeping the “streets” clean. It is believed that when the brain is exposed to the flashing light microglial activate and consume embedded amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.

The Light and Sound Process

With human testing underway, a light flash prototype is being used. With the eyes closed, subjects wear what looks like a sleeping mask and headphones. The mask emits light through the eyelids at 40 hertz 40 times per second which replicates human brain waves. Also added is a tapping sound in the headphones at 40 hertz as well. Each subject wears the device for one hour per day. Some are already reporting improvements.

Using light and sound to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia is just the beginning of the progress that can be made without the use of medication. Over time, researchers hope for the leap in treating cognitive decline that they have been searching for over decades, through light flash therapy.