The Benefits of Bright Light Therapy for Seniors

Many seniors suffer from sleep disorders and poor sleep quality. Bright light therapy may be an accessible alternative treatment to regulate healthy sleep patterns. An hour of bright light therapy a day may brighten the mood and improve sleep quality in elderly people. Studies show that bright light therapy, that uses specifically designed light devices, improved symptoms of depression and poor sleep quality in older adults.

Circadian Rhythm

People who suffer from poor quality of sleep often require treatment to fix their circadian rhythm.  A circadian rhythm is an internal clock that alerts your brain when it is time to sleep and when it is time to be awake, and it smoothly transitions you between those two states. This internal clock is located just above the area in the brain where the nerves travel to the eyes within the hypothalamus. Think about this: if you have a set time that you wake up every weekday for your job, then you might find on the weekend you are not be able to sleep-in because your body naturally gets up at that same time. This is because that is when your circadian rhythm is set. A circadian rhythm transitions your body in the cycle of 24 hours between being tired when it is time to sleep and alert when it is time to be awake. It also assists in regulating your body temperature, your alertness and your daily cycles of hormones which can all affect your sleep quality. Having a disrupted circadian rhythm can decrease your sleep quality and interrupt those natural transitions between being alert and fatigued.  To fix a disrupted circadian rhythm you will need to reset your internal clock, one way to do that is to expose yourself to natural sunlight or artificial bright light using bright light therapy.

Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy (BLT) can be beneficial for those with sleep disorders, especially for the elderly and people with Alzheimer’s disease. Light therapy can help you reset your internal clock which may have been disrupted for a variety of reasons including seasons changing, change in routine or medication. It can assist you in having more regular sleep patterns and allow you to feel ready for sleep at night and feel refreshed during the day. Light therapy also decreases symptoms of depression, increased functioning for people with bipolar disorder and overall increasing the quality of life for people with a variety of mental illnesses. BLT and effective sleeping patterns can foster mental wellness in seniors. BLT should be used in conjunction with other approaches as overseen by your health care professional. Activities like exercise, walking outdoors, and socializing with their community all foster positive effects on seniors and assist in regular sleep patterns and cognitive function. Therefore, you should be utilizing these activities in conjunction with bright light therapy to receive the best results.

How Does It Work?

Bright light therapy stimulates the hypothalamus by mimicking natural sunlight to restore functioning circadian rhythms. By sitting next to the bright light therapy box for half an hour in the mornings, you will receive 10,000 lux which is 100 times brighter than regular indoor lighting. It is more comparable to that of a bright sunny day which is 50,000 lux or more. Eyes need to be open during light therapy but focused away from the source of light so you can read your favorite book, phone chat with friends or catch up on your favorite show. In terms of physical therapy, it is easy, accessible, and inexpensive as regular bright light machines sell for between $50 to $100.

Bright light therapy can be an accessible way to treat a variety of conditions including mental health conditions such as seasonal affective disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, as well as sleep disorders, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and even helps in adjusting to jet lag or a nighttime work schedule. BLT is considered safe for all people including seniors, however, with any treatment, there may be side effects including eyestrain, nausea, and irritability. Ensure that you are using bright light therapy under the guidance of your healthcare provider.

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