The potential of light therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease is twofold. In one form, it can alleviate some motor and non-motor symptoms and in another form, it may slow the progression of the disease. As a provider of medically directed home care, we at SeniorBridge are following this therapeutic development with great interest.

Shining a light on non-motor symptoms

Parkinson’s is frequently associated with motor-related symptoms, but non-motor symptoms such as sleeplessness, cognitive defects, and mental health issues are equally or more prevalent, especially in later stages of the disease. BLT, or bright light therapy, can help alleviate both categories of symptoms.

Research on the topic is relatively new. But a 2018 study in Trends in Neurosciences stated “BLT significantly improves motor dysfunction including bradykinesia, rigidity, tremor, nocturnal movements, dyskinesia and postural imbalance.” It went on to affirm the efficacy of BLT in reducing depression, anxiety, and multiple forms of sleep problems including insomnia, prolonged daytime sleeping, and discontinuity in the sleep cycle.

The reasons for BLT’s effectiveness are believed to be linked to the restoration of circadian functions, which can be compromised by dopamine-based therapy. Yet regardless of the reason, BLT is now understood to provide multiple benefits.

Recent reports indicate that private-sector companies are developing light therapy devices for home use – and medically directed home care professionals will be optimally positioned to help administer it.

64%

of Parkinson’s patients who experience sleep problems

Moon illustration highlighting 64% of moon

Sleep disruption is the 2nd most commonly reported non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to a 2020 Scientific Reports study. The symptom has gone largely unaddressed because of potential interference of pharmaceutical sleep aids with PD medications, but research now suggests that bright light therapy holds significant potential to abate sleep disruption.

Near-infrared light therapy (NIr): Slowing the progress of Parkinson’s

The other aspect of light-related therapy for Parkinson’s is less established, but possibly more impactful, as it shows the potential to slow the progress of PD as well as Alzheimer’s.

Light in the near-infrared range (NIr) “is emerging as a safe and effective therapy that is capable of arresting neuronal death,” reported a 2015 study in Frontiers in Neuroscience. “Previous studies have used NIr to treat tissue stressed by hypoxia, toxic insult, genetic mutation and mitochondrial dysfunction with much success….we propose NIr therapy as a neuroprotective or disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients.”

It’s important to note that while pre-clinical evidence is very encouraging, there are several hurdles NIr must clear before it is accepted by the medical community. Among them is the means of applying NIr to the part of the brain affected by PD. As the aforementioned study pointed out, “the distance from cranium to the main zone of pathology is much greater…Hence, it is unlikely that an NIr signal from an extracranial source would reach the target cells. This presents a clear limitation in the use of extracranially-applied NIr as a neuroprotective treatment in Parkinson's patients.”

Still, NIr therapy is an exciting development worth watching, and clinical trials are under way.

Light in the near-infrared range “is emerging as a safe and effective therapy that is capable of arresting neuronal death”

Frontiers in Neuroscience

Not a “mainstream treatment” - yet

Those in the profession of medically directed home care have long known that light can elevate mood, help restore sleep patterns, and introduce energy into the homes of people facing chronic and debilitating conditions. The advancement of light-related therapies shows the potential of a new way for us to help people facing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and perhaps other conditions yet to be discovered.

“This is still not considered a mainstream treatment,” said Christina Hahn, RN, MSN and Care Manager Supervisor for SeniorBridge. “But if and when it becomes one, we can assist with therapy sessions in and outside the home in accordance with the doctor’s orders.”

The integrated care management model by SeniorBridge

Home care services vary widely in the services they provide.

SeniorBridge offers an integrated care management practice model that involves two components:

  1. Clinical care (under the direction of an RNCM/Registered Nurse Care Manager) supported by a Social Worker and a team of caregivers, based on patient’s needs and
  2. A portfolio of home care services and geriatric care management in such areas as nutrition, caregiver education, benefit coordination, transportation, and coordination with discharge planners, physicians, pharmacy, home health agencies, and care managers.

NOTE: We have full COVID-19 safety protocols in place to keep clients, families and associates safe.

For more information on hypertension home care support services, contact SeniorBridge.

Sources consulted:
National Library of Medicine /NIH/Trends in Neurosciences (2018)
Scientific Reports (2020)
Frontiers in Neuroscience (2015)

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