Shine a light on senior health

Senior sleep can be improved with light therapy.

Many people are interested in quality sleep and for good reason. Michigan State University Extension recognizes that quality sleep is important for overall health at any age. Infants through 3 years need up to 15 hours. School age children need up to 12 hours, and teens need at least 9 hours sleep. New parents probably feel like they never sleep. Healthy seniors need at least 6-8 hours of quality sleep.

For seniors living in long-term care, changes in lifestyle and environment can have an extreme effect on day-to-day functions. One effect is a disruption in the sleep-wake cycles. Lack of quality sleep can often lead to a decline in practical capabilities and quality of life. For example, it may be challenging to want to get up, take a shower and go to activities, when you are tired all day long, from lack of quality sleep. Not taking part in activities can in turn delay adjustment to the newer living situation and may trigger depressive symptoms. 

Light therapy is an intervention for a variety of conditions, including mood disorder, and sleep disorders. An inconspicuous intervention such as decisively designed light exposure has many benefits, but one of the most distinct is the ability to treat patients with numerous and different diagnoses simultaneously, as well as those who remain undiagnosed.   

A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry, where 89 participants aged 60 and older who had major depressive disorder underwent blue light therapy treatments for 1 hour in the early morning every day for 3 weeks. After the treatments the participants showed improved mood, enhanced sleep efficiency and a higher level of melatonin. The blue light therapy produced continuing improvement in mood, even after the treatment ceased.

The Journal of American Medical Directors Association published a study in which participants were residents of a long-term care facility. Seniors received their treatment in the mornings on a weekly basis for 4 weeks, or 20 sessions. After the 4 weeks of treatment, substantial improvements in cognition were identified.

Overall, blue light therapy has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of a variety of illnesses. This type of treatment can be a low cost alternative to pharmaceutical treatments, which can be high, priced and have a wide range of side effects.

Minimally, senior living facilities can be sure to help residents get natural sunlight each day. Getting outside, weather permitting of course, is best. However, even spending time in areas where natural sunlight can stream through windows can be beneficial. 

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