Melbourne: Australian researchers have claimed that sitting in front of a light box for 45 minutes a day could reduce fatigue for patients with traumatic brain injuries.
Light therapy has previously been used for seasonal affective disorder, with studies showing that light hitting the back of the eye can stimulate changes to hormones in the brain and reset the body`s circadian rhythm.
Monash University neuropsychologist Jennie Ponsford said she was initially sceptical about its potential to treat patients with traumatic brain injuries, who commonly suffer debilitating fatigue that can persist for decades.
However, initial findings from a trial of about 30 patients from the Epworth Hospital is showing that the treatment is working to stimulate alertness, allowing people with head injuries to more easily perform daily tasks.
Ponsford said many patients treated for head injuries at the hospital were young, aged between 15 and 30, and had been injured in car accidents.
She said about 70 per cent experienced fatigue, which was the most limiting factor for those able to return to work and study.
"It often means they are only able to work part time, or the effort expended in working means they just have to go home and go to bed," Ponsford said, according to a report in `The Age` newspaper.
"They are bombed out completely, so it just ruins their social life and family life. It is a major adjustment they have to make to the pace of their lifestyle.
"Ponsford said missing connections in the brains of head-injured patients led to a range of problems including slowed thinking and difficulty planning and concentrating and those problems were likely to at least partly explain their fatigue, which then caused many patients to become depressed.
Researchers are monitoring their fatigue and sleep patterns, reaction times, and levels of depression and anxiety, and have found that short wavelength light is having an impact.
Ponsford said one participant, an academic with a mild head injury who had been struggling to function in a high-powered job, found the treatment had transformed his ability to work.
"People getting the (short wavelength light) therapy are coming back and saying, `I want one of these boxes`. It`s been amazing. I must say I was very sceptical about the whole thing; it sounds a bit out there, but I really think it works," she said.
Researchers aim to recruit 90 patients into the trial, funded by the Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative, before publishing their final results.
Ponsford said that if it was shown to be effective, the light therapy would be a breakthrough in treating fatigue for brain-injured patients. She said drugs,including the stimulant Modafinil, had previously been tested in the group but had not made a significant difference.