Infrared light therapy could have the potential to help people living with dementia, researchers have said.
A pilot study using a helmet to beam infrared light into healthy volunteers’ brains found improvements in the memory, motor function and processing skills.
The team, led by Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University and local GP Dr Gordon Dougal, say this transcranial photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T) may also benefit people with dementia.
They stressed that more research was needed but said the findings of their pilot were promising.
It follows a study in the US which indicated infrared treatment had a positive effect on people with mild to moderate dementia.
The UK pilot saw 14 healthy people, aged 45 and over, receive six minutes of PBM-T twice a day at a wavelength of 1068 nanometres, for a month.
Alongside them were a control group of 13 people who used a dummy helmet.
Both groups were set tests and researchers noted a significant improvement in performance in motor function, memory and brain processing speed, for those using the real helmet over those given the placebo.
Dr Chazot, who has 20 years of studying particular infrared wavelengths for dementia treatment, said: “While this is a pilot study and more research is needed, there are promising indications that therapy involving infrared light might also be beneficial for people living with dementia and this is worth exploring.
“Indeed, we and our US research collaborators recently also published a new independent clinical study which provides the first evidence for profound and rapid improvement in memory performance in dementia.”
He said particular wavelengths of infrared light were known to help alleviate nerve cell damage.
The £7,250 PBM-T helmet was devised by Dr Dougal, of the firm Maculume and who is also a GP in County Durham.
It delivers infrared light from 14 fan-cooled LED light arrays, deep into the brain.
Dr Dougal said the helmet “may well help dying brain cells regenerate into functioning units once again”.
He added: “Much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action.”
Grandmother Tracy Sloan, 56, has used one to improve her memory.
The GP’s administrator is healthy and has no diagnosed condition that would affect her memory, but has noted improvement in her daily life.
She wore the helmet morning and night for six minutes each time over three months.
She said: “I have a bad memory to start with and I think as you get older it gets no better, so I thought I would give the therapy a go.
“I wasn’t sure it would make a difference, but to be honest I think it did.
“After a few weeks I noticed that my sleeping pattern was better, I felt more relaxed and I had more energy.”
She wore the helmet while watching TV, adding: “My kids would look at me and say ‘What have you got on your head?’ but I thought if this helps me in anyway then it is worth it.”
The research is published in the journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine And Laser Surgery