Infrared light therapy could potentially help people with dementia, researchers said.
A pilot study using a headset to beam infrared light into the brains of healthy volunteers found improvements in memory, motor function, and processing skills.
The team, led by Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University and local GP Dr Gordon Dougal, say this transcranial photobiomodulation therapy (PBM-T) can also benefit people with dementia.
They stressed that more research was needed, but said the results of their pilot project were promising.
It follows a study in the United States that found infrared therapy to have a positive effect on people with mild to moderate dementia.
The British pilot saw 14 healthy people, aged 45 and over, given six minutes of PBM-T twice a day at a wavelength of 1068 nanometers, for a month.
Beside them was a control group of 13 people who used dummy helmets.
Both groups were tested and the researchers noted a significant improvement in the performance of motor function, memory and processing speed of the brain, for those who used the real headset compared to those who received the placebo.
Dr Chazot, who has 20 years of studies of particular infrared wavelengths for the treatment of dementia, said: “Although this is a pilot study and more research is needed, there are promising indications that therapy involving infrared light could also be beneficial for people with dementia and it is worth exploring.
“Indeed, we and our US research collaborators recently published a new independent clinical study that provides the first evidence of profound and rapid improvement in memory performance in dementia. “
He said particular wavelengths of infrared light are known to help lessen damage to nerve cells.
The £ 7,250 PBM-T headset was designed by Dr Dougal of the Maculume firm who is also a general practitioner in County Durham.
It delivers infrared light from 14 fan-cooled LED light arrays deep in the brain.
Dr Dougal said the helmet “may well help dying brain cells regenerate into functional units.”
He added: “Much more research is needed to fully understand the mechanism of action.”
Grandmother Tracy Sloan, 56, used one to improve her memory.
The GP administrator is in good health and has no diagnosed illnesses that could affect her memory, but has noticed improvement in her daily life.
She wore the helmet morning and night for six minutes each time for three months.
She said, “I have a bad memory to begin with and I think as I get older it doesn’t get better, so I thought I was going to try therapy.
“I wasn’t sure it would make a difference, but to be honest I think it did.
“After a few weeks, I noticed that my sleep pattern was better, I felt more relaxed and I had more energy.”
She wore the headset while watching TV, adding, “My kids would look at me and say ‘What’s on your head?’ but i thought if it helps me anyway it is worth it.
The research is published in the journal Photobiomodulation, Photomedicine And Laser Surgery