Red lights on the brain – the case for photobiomodulation

Dr Catherine Hamilton’s is the author of a paper discussing the early observations of an in-house built photobiomodulation (PBM) helmet, known as the Coronet. Her case review assessed a small group of people who trialed the helmets. The results are positive and 55% showed improved, 43% stayed the same and 2% got worse. Of the users that improved, they reported changes such as increased sense of smell, better sleeping and improved fine motor control. What is important from this study is that it is a non-invasive approach that does not appear to cause harm and although there are non-responders, a small majority appear to benefit from the intervention. It is interesting that this approach is also being trialed in dementia, anxiety and also people suffering from acquired brain damage. 
With any emerging technology, results need to be taken with caution until bigger trials are done. What needs to be considered from this paper is the conflict of interest of the author as she has an intrinsic bias given she is the founder of the helmet. That does not mean the results are any less important, but they do need to be reproducible and in larger and more controlled trials to be validated. One of the other big concerns in small observational studies like this is that effects like the placebo (believing in the benefit, regardless of the treatment) and Hawthorne (improving because of observation alone) effects cannot be controlled for so it is hard to exclude them from the treatment effect. Having said all of that, the anecdotal evidence is swelling for use of these devices and the improvements that people did report seemed to be sustained for up to 24 months which in a degenerative condition is cause for celebration. Read the abstract here and we look forward to hearing from Dr Hamilton and her INSIGHT presentation as she unpacks this symptom management approach further. 


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