Treat Alzheimer’s: Flickering Lights?


ATLANTA, Ga. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — By the year 2050, more than 14 million Americans are expected to have Alzheimer’s. Now researchers say a treatment involving lights and sound is showing great promise to treat Alzheimer’s.

Seventy-seven-year-old Virginia Sams loves traveling and is rarely at a loss for words.

“I love having conversations with people,” Sams told Ivanhoe.

But three years ago—“I would forget so many words in one sentence that I could not have a conversation,” detailed Sams.

She went to the doctor and did some tests.

“And discovered that I had a real problem with this part of my brain that’s for words,” said Sams.

It was early stage dementia. Now researchers are looking to see if they can rewire the brains of Alzheimer’s patients with flickering lights and sound. Previous studies have shown the treatment to be effective in mice.

“Based on mouse studies, we do see things like we can reduce plaques in animals,” said Annabelle Singer, PhD, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech.

(Read Full Interview)

Toxic plaques that are the cornerstone of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Emory and Georgia Tech are looking to see if the effects can be mimicked in human trials with the flicker device.

“They have to sit with this flashing light and repetitive sound stimulation for an hour each day for either four weeks or eight weeks,” detailed James Lah, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at Emory University.

At 40 hertz the brain releases a surge of signaling chemicals that may help fight Alzheimer’s. Sams is taking part in the four to eight-week trial for the flicker device and said that the idea of this is encouraging.

“Maybe that would help, so why not try that,” said Sams.

The researchers say this stimulation may also be useful for other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s or schizophrenia. They also advise against people improvising light therapies on their own or buying from companies claiming to have the same frequencies, because getting frequencies wrong could possibly do damage.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer, Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and most people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. However, it’s not just a disease of old age. Alzheimer’s is considered a progressive disease. In the early stages, memory loss is mild, but in late-stage, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and on average, a person lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as 20 years, depending on other factors.


STAGES OF ALZHEIMER’S:  The first stage of Alzheimer’s begins long before any symptoms appear and is called preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. It is usually identified in research settings and can last for years, even decades. The next stage, called mild cognitive impairment, causes mild changes in memory and thinking ability, but is not significant enough to affect work or relationships. Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed in the mild dementia stage, when it becomes clear that a person is having significant trouble with memory and thinking that impacts daily functioning. During the moderate dementia stage, people grow more confused and forgetful and begin to need more help with daily activities and self-care. The final stage, called severe dementia, causes mental function to continually decline, resulting in a growing impact on movement and physical capabilities.


NEW ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION: A new study from Tokyo Medical and Dental University in Japan found that neurons died earlier than experts previously thought in Alzheimer’s disease. Stopping this process could prevent Alzheimer’s from ever developing. Scientists are measuring neuronal death, which is a key process underlying the symptoms of dementia, in mouse models, as well as in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and those with Alzheimer’s disease. They measured the levels of the HMGB1 protein in the fluid surrounding the spinal cord of 26 people with MCI and 73 people with Alzheimer’s disease. They were surprised to find that neurons died much earlier than they expected. In fact, the participants with MCI had more neuronal death than those with Alzheimer’s disease. “Neuronal death is obviously very important in the development of Alzheimer’s but is notoriously difficult to detect in real time because dying cells cannot be stained using chemical or immunohistological methods,” explains the lead author of the study, Hikari Tanaka.



Jennifer Johnson McEwen, Director of Communications

Emory Brain Health Center at Emory University School of Medicine


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Annabelle Singer, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Read the entire Q&A