help caring elderly illustration

Are you buying a light therapy device for someone else? It is great that you want to help that person, no matter who it is. But you can do even more!

We are talking about diseases of the brain here. The brain is where the bright light works – and it is also where you can be useful yourself. You have probably heard of the placebo effect: the reaction of a patient’s physiological processes to the mere fact that he or she is being treated. However, you might not be aware of how strong such an effect can be.

I know how exhausting it is to take care of someone, so I will not bother you with all the science behind it. However, you may check some charts like those in this study showing that many treatments prove to be less effective or even not effective at all without the subject knowing about the treatment. This effect is famous regarding treatment for pain but it exists in almost all medical problems. For instance, placebo can reduce mortality in diseases of the heart and much improve sleep, stress, mood, or other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including tremors. In these cases, placebo often results in 50% or more of the effect which pharmacological treatment offers.

My favourite demonstration was presented in 2004 when a group of scientists from the US and Germany compared results from Parkinsonian patients undergoing either announced but faked surgery or real surgical treatment disguised as a fake operation. Surprisingly, those thinking they were helped improved more than those who truly received a transplant but did not know about it.

Of course, when giving advice about lamps, I cannot exaggerate their efficiency. If you are in a position where it would be ethical to use placebo, do it! Make it a bit of theatre play, promise your loved one that you will bring a very potent device even before you actually buy it. Read a bit on the neural mechanisms, even just a few articles during a coffee break, and explain how significantly the lamps affect the brain. Make it a story because that’s what people, especially suffering people, listen and respond to.

Don’t lie: in fact, the effect may be minimal in a particular patient and it would be unfair to make them feel disappointed. Instead, highlight that it is supposed to work and that you are personally sure you will see some improvement, even though you know of cases described in the literature where an effect was not observed. Create expectations; after a couple of weeks, ask the person if they feel even slightly improved. Often, they’ll have something to tell you!

No matter how bizarre it may seem, such mechanisms are why homeopathic medicine or acupuncture work – they have many clients who have been greatly improved even without the slightest physiological treatment. Human brains need consistency and if reality does not meet our expectations, the brain will do its best to improve our reality itself. This includes influencing our endocrine and cardiac activity, immune functions, and, of course, the chemical balances between its own neurons. These effects are especially strong in disorders heavily influenced by the dopaminergic system of the brain such as Parkinson’s and depression.

Lamps are a great choice so give placebo a try and exploit the body-mind mechanisms, too!