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Let there be light for brain injury victims

Half a world away from La Crosse, researchers are finding that light therapy can help some victims of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The research conducted in Australia shows that when those who've suffered TBI sit in front of a light box for 45 minutes per day, the treatment can reduce fatigue and stimulate alertness in patients.

A professor of neuropsychology said she was at first skeptical about the possible benefits for TBI victims of the treatment commonly used to combat seasonal affective disorder. But early results from a Melbourne hospital are promising, enabling patients with the head injuries to more easily complete routine daily tasks.

Many of the TBI patients at the hospital are between ages 15 and 30 and sustained their injuries in car accidents. About three-quarters of them experience problems with fatigue that can prevent them from returning to the lives they led before their injuries.

The fatigue could well be the result of difficulties concentrating and planning brought about by the injuries. Those difficulties can then lead to more problems, including depression among TBI patients.

But the therapy shines light on the back of the eyes, stimulating the brain and resetting the body's sleep and rest patterns (circadian rhythm).

The researchers are using different light wavelengths on patients and also keeping tabs on a control group receiving no light therapy. The test group receives 45 minutes of light therapy within an hour and a half of waking.

Researchers then monitor any changes in sleep and fatigue, levels of depression, and reaction times. Results so far have been positive.

The research will continue with an expanded test group. If results continue to be positive, it's very possible that this relatively simple and affordable therapy could be invaluable to people who've suffered traumatic brain injuries in car accidents, slips and falls and other mishaps.

Source: Melbourne Weekly: "Light box could be breakthrough in treatment of brain injury fatigue" by Kate Hagan: Aug. 8, 2011

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