Shining Light on Dementia and Traumatic Brain Injury

 
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Written by Sam Gill

We often take our health and independence for granted, but for many thousands of Australians affected by neurological disease or injury, even tasks such as making a cup of tea or remembering their way around a supermarket can be a distant dream.

Dementia Australia estimates that there were 436,366 Australians living with dementia in 2018, while an alarming 26,433 had younger-onset dementia. Tragically, the incidence of neurodegenerative disease is rapidly rising, as around 250 people are diagnosed with dementia every day. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. As for traumatic brain injury (TBI), a 1999 study found that approximately 338,700 Australians were affected. Given the devastating effects that these conditions have on individuals and their families, and sometimes harmful effects of medications, new approaches are desperately needed.

What if light could play a role? The need for safe, effective treatments has led to the study of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), also known as cold laser therapy or photobiomodulation (PBM). This therapy uses near-infrared light to boost the body’s natural healing ability. Evidence suggests that LLLT may help the brain repair itself, by stimulating the growth of new nerve cells, protecting them, and encouraging the formation of new connections in the brain.

How Does LLLT Work?

LLLT works by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, while stimulating circulation and – the most widely studied mechanism – boosting cellular energy production. It has also been scientifically proven to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling, improve tissue oxygenation, lymphatic circulation, decrease the formation of scar tissue, and accelerate the healing process while strengthening damaged tissue.

Our cells produce energy in tiny peanut-shaped regions known as the mitochondria. When a cell is damaged or inflamed, the mitochondria’s ability to use oxygen for energy is diminished. Using LLLT, light waves are absorbed by the mitochondria, enabling them to produce the energy needed to repair and heal the cells. We commonly associate light-sensing molecules with sight, but our mitochondria can also be stimulated by light.

Our resident chiropractor, Sam Gill, says that “The light can penetrate up to 12 cm in some parts of the body without producing any heat”.

LLLT and Alzheimer’s Disease

Evidence is now emerging, in both animal and human studies, for the potential benefits of LLLT for the health and protection of our brains. A recent case series conducted by Dr Margaret A. Naeser, Ph.D., reported significant improvement in cognition in mild to moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease and dementia using LLLT.

Clinical trials are also currently underway in Australia, led by Dr Ann Liebert, Ph.D. at Sydney University, to test whether applying LLLT to the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease can improve symptoms and halt disease progression. Additionally, a recent clinical case report indicated improvements in speech, cognition, freezing episodes, and walking after transcranial PBM in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Whilst larger studies are needed, initial results are promising. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease share many of the same harmful cellular processes, each with devastating results in different areas of the brain.

LLLT and Traumatic Brain Injury

In healthy human volunteers, LLLT has been shown to increase blood flow in the brain, oxygen supply, and improve memory, mood, and cognitive function. These are all common issues seen in cases of TBI, which also has devastating effects on patients and their families.

Other clinical studies involving patients suffering from chronic TBI have reported showing improvement in executive function, working memory, and sleep.

Gabrielle’s Story

The 2015 book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, tells the story of a woman, Gabrielle, who won her life back using LLLT. Complications from surgery to remove a benign tumour left her with a brain injury. Her cognition, balance, visual tracking, sound processing ability, short-term memory, and energy levels all declined dramatically.

A chance encounter led to Gabrielle trying LLLT for both postoperative folliculitis – inflammation of hair follicles – and her brain injury. After one week, she could concentrate for longer periods. At the eight-week mark, she described being able to walk faster, exercise in the swimming pool, remember, multitask, listen to music, sing, and cope with noise. A few months later, she began to dance again for the first time in years. Ten months after her first treatment, Gabrielle resumed driving, and later returned to work. She was thrilled with the results. It is important to remember, however, that she did not stop rehabilitation or exercising her brain to relearn old skills.

If you are interested in LLLT for yourself or a loved one, read more about it here or for more information contact us on 6685 6445. 

References

https://www.dementia.org.au/statistics

https://www.braininjuryaustralia.org.au/resources/fact-sheets-brain-injury-australia/acquired-brain-injury-statistics/