In a recent study presented at the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting, researchers found a new ‘light flash’ treatment may help slow down Alzheimer’s disease.
They found exposing Alzheimer’s patients to an hour a day of carefully modulated light and/or sound could slow down the brain degeneration that typifies disease progression.
This method bolsters and reinforces a particular type of rhythmic brain wave pattern—called “gamma waves”—which are known to diminish in power among patients battling Alzheimer’s.
The study is from MIT. One author is Li-Huei Tsai.
In previous research, the team pioneered testing of this sensory stimulation technique—nicknamed “GENUS”— among mice.
They found after exposing mice with Alzheimer’s to visible light flashes at a frequency of 40 Hz, they were able to cut down amyloid-beta plaque levels in the brain’s visual cortex region.
Amyloid plaque buildup in the brain has long been considered a key sign of Alzheimer’s.
The specific light flash frequency deployed in the study was designed to match the natural frequency sweet spot of gamma brain waves.
In the current study, the team aimed to see whether that initial success with mice could be replicated in people.
They tested 15 patients diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s.
Over a three-month period, part of this group was given equipment to self-administer a daily bout of carefully patterned and synchronized light and sound. Each daily session for this treatment group was an hour in length.
As a point of comparison, the other patients were exposed to daily “sham” sessions of constant light and white noise.
Three months later, brain scans revealed that brain wave potency improved in the treatment group, while signs of Alzheimer’s-related brain degeneration slowed.
The treatment group also performed better on cognitive tests, and there were no side effects.
In a similar study from Yale, half of 74 mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s patients underwent similar one-hour daily 40 Hz audio-visual exposure sessions for 6 months. The other half underwent daily sham sessions.
This team found that while brain degeneration linked to Alzheimer’s did continue to unfold among the treatment group, it did so at a 65% reduced rate when stacked up against the non-treatment group.
Researchers cautioned that since both investigations involved small groups of patients, more and larger studies will be needed.
Still, both studies indicate that GENUS is safe and people tolerate the treatment well; it preserved the brain volume in Alzheimer’s patients; it preserved the connectivity of the brain in Alzheimer’s patients, and it preserved some cognitive and daily function in Alzheimer’s patients.
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