International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Bright light therapy for agitation in dementia: a randomized controlled trial

Alistair Burnsa1a2 c1, Harry Allena2, Barbara Tomensona3, Debbie Duignana2 and Jane Byrnea1

a1 Old Age Psychiatry, University of Manchester, Manchester, U.K.

a2 Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, Manchester, U.K.

a3 Psychiatry Research Group, School of Community Based Medicine, University of Manchester University of Manchester, Manchester, U.K.


Background: Agitation is common in people with dementia, is distressing to patients and stressful to their carers. Drugs used to treat the condition have the potential to cause particularly severe side effects in older people with dementia and have been associated with an increased death rate. Alternatives to drug treatment for agitation should be sought. The study aimed to assess the effects of bright light therapy on agitation and sleep in people with dementia.

Methods: A single center randomized controlled trial of bright light therapy versus standard light was carried out. The study was completed prior to the mandatory registration of randomized controls on the clinical trials registry database and, owing to delays in writing up, retrospective registration was not completed.

Results: There was limited evidence of reduction in agitation in people on active treatment, sleep was improved and a suggestion of greater efficacy in the winter months.

Conclusions: Bright light therapy is a potential alternative to drug treatment in people with dementia who are agitated.

(Received October 27 2008)

(Revised December 01 2008)

(Revised January 19 2009)

(Accepted January 20 2009)

(Online publication March 27 2009)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Alistair Burns, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, University of Manchester, 3rd Floor, University Place, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, U.K. Phone: +44 (0)161 306 7941; Fax: +44 (0)161 306 7945. Email: