Bright Light Therapy May Help Reduce Depression Symptoms In Elderly Patients

Bright light therapy which often used to fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may also help reduce major depression symptoms in elderly patients, a clinical trial suggests.

The study, which was published January 3 in the prestigious Archives of General Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In this study, 89 people aged 60 or older with a major depression were given a light box to take home and instructed to sit beside it for an hour each morning over three weeks.

The participants were randomly divided into two groups: 42 patients got a bright blue light and 47 got a dim red light.

After three weeks of treatment, the study showed bright light therapy improved depression symptoms by 43 percent, compared with the 36 percent improvement found with the placebo group.

Three weeks after the treatment ended, the researchers get back to observe the development of the participants and they found symptoms of depression continued to improve among the bright light therapy group which is 54 percent improvement versus 33 percent in the placebo group.

The bright light treatment group also showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and got out of bed earlier than the patients who received dim light.

Researchers say the improvements found with bright light therapy in treating depressed elderly people in this study is similar to the improvements found with antidepressant drug treatment.

“I think bright light therapy definitely now deserves a place in the treatment of major depression in older adults,” said lead researcher Dr. Ritsaert Lieverse, a psychiatrist at GGZ in Geest and the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam.

It is not clear why bright light therapy may work for people with major depression, but study has shown it often used in the treatment of people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One idea is that in people with SAD, the light may correct a problem with their inner biological clock called the circadian rhythm, study author Dr. Raymond W. Lam said.

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