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Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Aug;149(8):1028-32.

Bright light treatment of behavioral and sleep disturbances in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, Mass.



The authors tested the hypothesis that evening bright light pulses would improve sleep-wake patterns and reduce agitation in patients with Alzheimer's disease who have severe sundowning (a syndrome of recurring confusion and increased agitation in the late afternoon or early evening) and sleep disorders.


Ten inpatients with Alzheimer's disease on a research ward of a veterans' hospital were studied in an open clinical trial. All patients had sundowning behavior and sleep disturbances. After a week of baseline measurements, patients received 2 hours/day of exposure to bright light between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. for 1 week. During the baseline week, the treatment week, and a posttreatment week, patients were rated by nurses for agitation, sleep-wake patterns, use of restraints, and use of prescribed-as-needed medication. On the last 2 days of each week, patients wore activity monitors. Activity counts were analyzed for circadian rhythmicity.


Clinical ratings of sleep-wakefulness on the evening nursing shift improved with light treatment in eight of the 10 patients. The proportion of total daily activity occurring during the nighttime decreased during the light-treatment week. The relative amplitude of the circadian locomotor activity rhythm, a measure of its stability, increased during the light-treatment week. More severe sundowning at baseline predicted greater clinical improvement.


Evening bright light pulses may ameliorate sleep-wake cycle disturbances in some patients with Alzheimer's disease. This effect may be mediated through a chronobiological mechanism.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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