Nov 21, 2017

How to Use Bright Light to Improve Mood and Behavior in Alzheimer's Patients

One of the most important things I learned as an Alzheimer's caregiver was how to use bright light to change my mother's mood and behavior.


Bright light can be used effectively to change the mood and behavior of Alzheimer's patients.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

My mother, Dotty, had a tendency to get in a bad mood around 4:30 PM each day. It was like a form of sundowning. Learn more about that situation by following this link.


She might say things like I'm going to bed, or something much worse. What really struck me was the look on her face. It seemed like she wasn't there; or, sometimes like she as very unhappy. I didn't like the look on her face and it continued to bother me.

Along with this I noticed that whenever I put her in bright light her mood changed; and, she often seemed happier.


Oddly, I noticed that Dotty was always trying to sit in dim light (turn out the lights during the day); and, would frequently close the blinds or drapes to lock the light out.


I suppose you could say she either preferred low light, or she just didn't know she was sitting in the dim. Or maybe, she didn't want anyone looking in. Has any of this happened to you?

How did I use bright light to improve my mother's behavior and mood?

1. Sitting Her Next to a Window in Bright Light


We have a big window in our kitchen. On most days it has a lot of bright light coming in (we live in Florida). I started sitting my mother next to the window on and off throughout the day. I noticed almost immediately that this had a very positive effect on her.

I want to add, this is where Dotty usually talked to Harvey.

Harvey in my opinion is an essential tool for every caregiver. Can't get a minute to yourself, feel like you need a bit of time to yourself? Harvey provided me with over 3,000 hours of respite time. You can learn more about Harvey here, and how to get one - The Best Alzheimer's Caregiver Tool of Them All, A Must Have for Every Caregiver


2. I Took My Mother for a Ride in the Car to Get Her into Bright Light


As I mentioned the biggest problem occurred around 4:30 PM. What could I do? I started anticipating the problem. I would take my mother for a ride in the car starting around 4 PM. In other words, I would try to get out in front of the problem before it happened.

It Worked!

We would drive around and sometimes go to the store or McDonald's for a coffee. Here are some of the interesting things that started to happen.

We would drive down this street where every single house had a giant Banyon tree in the front yard. Dotty would notice the trees and start to remark about how beautiful they were. When we would come to a Banyon tree that was in bad shape she would remark about how it didn't look good; or, how it wasn't going to make it. She did this every single time - thousands of times.

Now usually when dementia patients say the same thing over and over we have a tendency to correct or remind them that they said that yesterday. Not me. I was so happy that Dotty was noticing the trees that it made me feel happy.


Here is the best part. Looking at the trees made Dotty feel happy. They seemed "awesome' to her. Every single time.

Are you getting the picture here? Instead of getting in a bad mood, Dotty was in a good mood. What did this accomplish? We changed a bad pattern (bad mood) into a good pattern (good mood). We replaced bad with good.

And the amazing part. Dotty was so happy looking at those trees that it made me feel happy. So instead of getting sad, or full of anxiety or stress at 4:30 PM - I felt happiness.


3. Finding Bright Light in Walmart and Target


Some days the weather was bad and we needed to go to the store anyway. Off we would go around 4 PM. They have good light in Walmart and Target.

Then something extra special started to happy. After about 50 unsuccessful tries I finally managed to get Dotty into the motorized shopping cart and follow me around the store.

Holly cow I thought. Not only do I have bright light for Dotty, now I have her using her brain, eyes and hands in concert with each other to drive the shopping cart.

I decided this was a really good thing. Keep that brain working, and keep Dotty using her brain in as many ways possible.


Here is the best part of it all. This exercise - driving the shopping cart - raised Dotty's self esteem. How do I know this?

One night while talking to my sister Joanne my mother asked me what did we do today? I said, we went to Walmart and you drove the cart. She repeated this to my sister on the phone and then added I am really good at driving the cart aren't I Bobby - I answered yes.

This is when I realized I had been praising my mother every time she drove the cart. Telling her how great she was at it.

I learned right then and right there you can raise the self esteem of an Alzheimer's patient; and you must make a concerted effort to do it. Check out this article from Teepa Snow and Marie Marley.


It was during this period that I was really starting to get the hang of effective Alzheimer's care. How did I do it?

I used what is known as "learning transfer". In other words, I started to realize I had learned all kinds of things during my life, and I could apply the things I learned to Alzheimer's care.

In this particular case I made a simple observation - bright light seemed to change my mother's mood for the better.

I had remembered reading about how bright light is often used to treat depression (a really bad mood). I also remembered that bright light (the sun) provides us with the necessary Vitamin D we need to remain healthy.

I started by using the bright light and then I accomplished all of the following with my mom.

  • Talking to Harvey (socialization)
  • Using her brain more actively (driving the cart)
  • Had raised her self esteem (praising her)
  • Had her moving around more (exercise)

and the most important of them all -

We started living our life once again.


When you have a problem try to use something you already learned or know to solve the problem.

If you have a problem and need some help send us an email (contact us); and, we will do the best we can to get you an expert answer.

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR).  The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.

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Learning Transfer

Learning transfer is taking what we learn in one context and applying it to another context. It can be taking a kernel of what we learn in school or in a book (knowledge) and applying it to the "real world."

Learning transfer refers to the degree to which an individual applies previously learned knowledge and skills to new situations.