How LED lighting can help with Alzheimer’s disease

November 1, 2021

We know that LEDs are at once economical, environmentally friendly, and kind to your wallet over the long term. There are posts and articles plastered across the internet (including our little corner of the web) evidencing the seemingly endless benefits that LEDs provide to our homes and businesses.

Since their mainstream inclusion in the lighting market within the last decade, their advantages have largely remained to be seen within the realm of saving money and the planet. Recent years, however, have revealed (illuminated, if you will) the surprising effects they have on the human body.

On this blog alone, we’ve seen how, much like other types of lighting, LEDs emulate the effects of natural light on our circadian rhythms, and therefore our energy levels and mood.

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These studies are just the tip of the iceberg, however, when it comes to the potential of LEDs. The more research that is done into LEDs, the more it seems that they were designed especially for human use. The latest scientific study, conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), found that LEDs can actually be used in a process that could help the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers at MIT found that, during an early stage test on mice, LED lights blocked an enzyme called HDAC2 that suppresses the genes related to memory loss, something which had proved difficult in the past without damaging surrounding enzymes that impact some internal organs.

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Studies from the early noughties suggested that Alzheimer’s patients had particularly weak gamma waves compared to non-sufferers, and more recent studies show that so-called ‘plaques and tangles’ of toxic material damage the synapses and neurons inside the brain which then lead to the confusion and decline in cognitive ability.

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In the mouse trials, measured exposure to LED lights significantly reduced the buildup of the toxic plaques characteristic with Alzheimer’s. After the treatment, fewer of these proteins were produced and their immune cells were more effectively able to clear the proteins from the brain.

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Professor Li-Huei Tsai, the lead neuroscientist on the study suggests that the LED lights begin the formation of brain waves known as gamma oscillations associated with memory, attention and perception that Alzheimer’s sufferers often lack in.

The decade-old study has provided fresh hope into using LEDs to treat other disorders linked to the HDAC2 enzyme, like PTSD.

The ground-breaking study is of particular scientific and societal interest since dementia (which Alzheimer’s is one form of) recently became a leading cause of death in the UK. In 2020 alone, one in ten deaths recorded in the UK were associated with complications from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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There are an estimated 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, a number set to more than double in the coming decades. There are also no known cures for the disease, so any progress towards treating it and its symptoms is a step forward for the thousands of people that die from it every year.

As is well known, the elderly community make up the vast majority dementia sufferers. One in 14 aged over 65 in the UK live with dementia, and this can affect the way they perceive and process visual information. Careful lighting design can make a significant step towards ensuring a safer and less confusing time for them.

The average 75-year-old requires four times more light as the average 20-year-old. Research has shown that up to 60% of people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty with contrast sensitivity, visual attention, object and facial recognition, colour and depth perception, and visual misinterpretation amongst other things.

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Good and appropriate lighting is therefore crucial for people with dementia so that they can translate the world around them more effectively and without as much risk of confusion and physical harm.

In this case, ‘good and appropriate’ lighting can mean several many aspects including lux levels (strength of the light), glare, exposure to daylight, dynamic lighting, and colour rendition.

LEDs are the catch-all solution for all of these approaches.

As discussed in previous posts, LEDs are an extremely flexible technology and their brightness levels can be adjusted with a simple flick of a switch or dimmer.

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Additionally, LEDs are revolutionary in their ability to emulate the effects of natural daylight throughout the day due to the wavelengths of light that they emit. This can positively impact our lifestyles due to our innate need for natural daylight. (They can even help grow your plants better!)

So, as you can see – and as evidenced by new and emerging science – the power of LED lighting is being uncovered more and more, and its benefits are (at this point) seemingly endless!

Even if this study into Alzheimer’s was the last significant study to reveal beneficial results to people and their welfare, it would still be an earth-shattering revelation for an affliction that has baffled and stumped neuroscience for years.

Ready to take the step into the future of lighting? Contact Cube Lighting & Design here to see if you qualify for free LED lighting!

Want to keep reading? Check out our latest blog post here: How do architecture and LEDs work together?

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