There is no current cure for Alzheimer’s. At the same time, it is one of the most destructive diseases in America, destructive in the health of the individuals who have it, and destructive in the way it affects the lives of family members. Almost everyone we know is touched by its effects, either through direct family experience or because of someone we know. Alzheimer’s is now the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number could rise as high as 16 million. In 2017 Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $259 billion and by 2050 could rise to $1.1 trillion. Since 2000, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14% while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 89%. The United States was ranked second in the Top 10 countries among deaths from dementia. These are some of the startling statistics that help define how urgently we need treatments and potential cures.
Today, there is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing. Research continues to explore therapies, preventions and concepts for slowing the disease. One of the newest concepts that is being tested is photobiomodulation light therapy, which was developed by Dr. Lew Lim, Founder & CEO of Vielight Inc. and co-inventor of several wearable photobiomodulation (PBM) / low level light therapy devices. His work on Alzheimer’s disease is now in a clinical trial (that is showing promising results) studying the use of near-infrared therapy to treat Alzheimer’s disease and see how the use of light therapy could radically reduce the risk.
Dr. Kim in interviews has explained, “If you look at the epidemiology of dementia and Alzheimer’s globally … countries that are in the northern hemisphere appear to have high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. You look at the top 10 countries, they’re all countries with winter, with shorter hours,” Lim says. In a way, what we’re doing here, directing light into the brain … has a … similar effect as sunlight, but more targeted. It has specific wavelengths that have an effect on the mitochondria of the neurons. Logically, that will lead to neuronal recovery if the neurons are performing sub-optimally or are damaged. That’s been found in in-vitro studies.”
Before Dr. Lim did the study on humans, there were already at least three published studies of work done on mice and rabbits. When they directed red and infrared light to the brain, they found that the commonly accepted biomarkers, the amyloid beta plaques, were reduced. The behavior got better. When Dr. Lim did a head-to-head comparison with the drugs (with the information he had from the pivotal trial with Aricept, which is commonly prescribed for Alzheimer’s), the data he received was seven times greater, with no side effect. His next trial involves 226 people that is randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled as well as a small study using 40 people that will be rigorously controlled. His studies show that the light therapy would have to be maintained and easy to use to continue to see results. He explained, “Alzheimer’s is a strongly degenerative disease with a lot of power on its own.” He is working on an invention that could be used at home for a few minutes every day that potentially will replicate the benefits of medical devices currently used only in clinics
While we cannot conclude spending more time in the sun or taking vitamin D will help alleviate Alzheimer’s, but it is both interesting and encouraging how broad research studies are actively searching for a cure. New discoveries in medical science happen every day; this light therapy study is just one more example of a future filled with hope for individuals and families dealing with the sadness and frustration of Alzheimer’s.