Building DIY light therapy devices
Alzheimers hitting home
The widespread impact of Alzheimers virtually guarantees that you or someone you know has a loved one who has suffered from Alzheimers. For me it’s been several people I’m very close to, my grandmother, mother, mother-in-law and my father-in-law’s life partner. While that seems a bit much to me, I’m far from alone.
In a video published in December 2016 on YouTube, the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shared some alarming statistics:
- One in three adults in the United States will die from Alzheimers or age related dementia.
- There are now 46 million people with Alzheimers worldwide.
- The total societal costs associated with age related dementia will reach 2 trillion by 2030.
- Alzheimers expenses are the greatest direct healthcare cost to the United States economy — greater than cancer and heart disease.
I year or so ago, I came across Torin Blankensmith’s project: Alzheimers Flashing Gamma Lights which he based on a WNYC Studios broadcast entitled Bringing Gamma Back. The broadcast featured an MIT study which showed a marked improvement in laboratory mice suffering from early stage Alzheimer when they were given an hour long session of pulsating light at 40hz.
I’ve wanted to try implementing Torin’s work with Arduino Microcontrollers ever since.
You might be wondering what light has to do with Alzheimers?
As you probably already know, your brain has billions of cells called Neurons which function using a bio-electrical process.
It’s believed that Alzheimers disease disrupts brain signalling. As neurons fire they create a specific rhythm which has been measured at a frequency of 40 Hz, a frequency range known as the gamma frequency.
Researchers have discovered that gamma rhythm is necessary to activate the brain’s cleanup genes called Microglia. Microglia function as part of the brains immune system.
When gamma rhythm is reduced the microglia are less active and thus less engaged in cleanup. The absence of cleanup, leads to the build up of a protein called Amyloid Beta which results in less gamma rhythms. The end result is reduced brain function such as the ability to recall memories.
For a clearer description see this five minute YouTube video.
I managed to find one company offering commercial products. I’m sure there are more. That said, this post is for the biohacker / DYIer.
Since Torin’s project is several years old, I’ve upgraded the components and overall design. For example, the original product didn’t specify a goggle and instead used room lights. I felt more direct stimulation might be more effective. I also changed the microcontroller and wrote a new program which drives more modern devices. Lastly I assembled build instructions for a sharp looking product.
My version is based on the Adafruit Trinket M0 an extremely small board featuring the Atmel ATSAMD21E18 microcontroller. The machine is programmable using the Arduino IDE and Adafruit board definition files.
The overall design is fairly straightforward featuring a microcontroller board, textile button switch and two micro RGB LEDs in series.
I used heat sink tubing to wrap wired connections and form an enclosure for both the LED pair as well as the microcontroller board.
Here’s a closeup of the microcontroller being wrapped in a heat sink tube. The nice thing about the heat sink wrap is that it secures fragile soldered connections while also making the component easier to glue mount.
I was able to mount the board on the left side of Dewalt safety googles.
I then crazy glued the light strip onto the inside of the googles. A micro-usb cable provides the board with power. The Trinket M0 board has support for mounting a JST-PH 2-Pin SMT Right Angle Connector for adding a lithium battery.
The programming for the microcontroller is surprisingly simple. As a small embellishment I use the textile button presses to trigger LED color changes from white, to red to green and then blue.
Additional info on YouTube
If you’d like to learn more about the science behind light based therapy see this YouTube video and related videos.
Review the links below if you’re interested in building your own prototype.
- Adafruit Trinket M0
- Tactile Button switch (6mm) x 20 pack
- ALITOVE 100pcs WS2812B Addressable 5050 smart RGB LED Pixel light on Black Heat Sink PCB Board
- Dewalt DPG82–21 Concealer Smoke Anti-Fog Dual Mold Safety Goggle
- Permatex 81158 Black Silicone Adhesive Sealant, 3 oz. Tube
- Heat shrink tubing
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