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Published: 21 March 2013

Light therapy for people with epilepsy

Bright light therapy – commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder – can reduce levels of depression and anxiety in patients with epilepsy, according to new research published online today by the British Journal of Psychiatry. Epilepsy Society’s consultant neuropsychologist Dr Sallie Baxendale was the lead researcher in the study of more than 100 patients with focal epilepsy not controlled by medication.

‘Our study shows that bright light therapy has a beneficial effect on symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with focal epilepsy. Bright light therapy suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles, and is an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder.

'It is also proving to be a promising treatment for non-seasonal depression, and is being tested in the treatment of sleep disorders, dementia, and insulin regulation in diabetes.’

Anti-epileptic drugs

Depression is common in people with epilepsy, but many people who are already taking several anti-epileptic drugs are reluctant to add to their burden of medication by taking anti-depressants as well.

All patients were given daily light therapy over a period of 12-weeks. Half received therapy from a high-intensity light box (with lamps emitting 10,000 lux) and the others received therapy from a low-intensity light box (with lamps emitting 2,000 lux). The participants kept seizure diaries throughout the trial period, and completed a Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale at both the start and end of the 12-week trial.

The researchers found that anxiety and depression scores were significantly reduced in patients who received both high and low-intensity therapy.

Said Dr Baxendale: ‘Interestingly, we did not find any differences between those patients who received high-intensity treatment and those who received low-intensity treatment. This suggests that light therapy may be an effective treatment of low mood in patients with epilepsy at lower intensities than those typically used to treat seasonal affective disorder.’

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