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Light therapy helps people with dementia sleep

April 11, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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People with dementia can sleep better through the night with light therapy.

Ecumen, senior housing and services provider, found in a pilot study that light therapy can improve nighttime sleeping and reduce agitation for residents with dementia.

Almost 60 percent of participants experienced fewer episodes of sleep disturbance and 32 percent had fewer behavioral episodes compared to nonparticipants. Antipsychotic medication usage decreased by 11 percent. Participants had adverse effects to the exposure of bright lights.

"We're very encouraged by the results," says Sonya DeSmith, an Ecumen Quality Improvement Nurse who supervised the study in a press release. "Our sample size was small, but based on the data and the anecdotal observations by our nurses, we plan to promote the therapy across all our sites. We view this as another tool in the tool box of evidence-based, non-drug interventions for residents with dementia."

Bright light tables were placed in memory care residents’ rooms and in common areas where small group activities are held. Residents were exposed to the bright lights on average 30 minutes a day during Daylight Savings Time and one hour after Daylight Savings time.

The study was conducted from April to December 15 at three Minnesota facilities: Ecumen Parmly LifePoints in Chisago City, Ecumen Detroit Lakes in Detroit Lakes and Ecumen-managed Grand Village in Grand Rapids. The study was funded through a grant from the LeadingAge Innovations Fund.

Based on the positive results, light therapy will be incorporated into the Ecumen Awakenings initiative, a care program designed to manage dementia without highly sedating drugs. 

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