When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, no one yet knows the best way to halt the gradual slips in memory and other brain functions that are the hallmarks of the disease. But researchers in the Netherlands have found that a simple nonmedical intervention may be just as effective as drugs to keep elderly patients sharp.
Eus Van Someren at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association that elderly patients with dementia who were exposed to bright lights in long-term care facilities scored 5% better on cognitive tests and had 19% fewer depressive symptoms than similar patients residing in less well-lit facilities. In the study, Van Someren's group used 1,000-lux bulbs in overhead lights, which is equivalent to the brightness of television studio lights, and compared their effects to those of 300-lux bulbs, which are found in office and retail settings. "I was surprised by the results on cognition," says Van Someren. "I had expected, based on previous studies, that we would find improvements in sleep. But I hadn't expected to see the effect on cognition."
The patients exposed to bright lights consistently scored one point higher on cognition tests during the five-year study than those residing under normal light conditions. "The results are interesting, and worth paying attention to," says Dr. Marilyn Albert, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.