Mental acuity is measured in a variety of ways.
Signs of declining mental acuity include brain fog and poor memory. Inability to focus or to make decisions quickly and decisively may also be warning signs.
Mental acuity tends to decline naturally as the brain ages. However, health, diet, and other therapeutic treatments can lead to better longevity.
Red light therapy (photobiomodulation) is one of the treatments making important headways in the world of brain science.
In the following section, we discuss mental acuity and how red light therapy can be an asset for treating issues with mental acuity as well as overall health.
What is Mental Acuity?
Mental acuity measures the sharpness of the mind, or its ability to process information, respond to stimuli, and recall memories.
Mental acuity is essentially the same as cognitive acuity. Cognitive decline refers to reduced cognitive functioning due to a variety of causes.
How to Measure Mental Acuity
Mental acuity involves four primary overlapping brain functions:
The ability to isolate a sensory stimulus or focus on a task. Often, there are a lot of things competing for your attention: what’s going on around you, physical sensations, and thoughts.
Greater attention helps you cut through external distractions and noisy self-talk so you can focus on what’s important whether it's absorbing, processing, or recalling information and performing a task.
Fast information processing, especially complex information coming simultaneously from the senses, helps you respond faster and better to what’s happening and make faster decisions.
The ability to sort and recall memories or remember information relevant to specific situations.
A combination of attention, information processing, memory, and attention all come into play when you need to make a decision, especially a fast decision when you’re faced with complex choices.
Crystallized Intelligence and Fluid Intelligence
There are two types of intelligence. Intelligence is often defined as the capacity for abstract and critical thinking, learning, logic and reasoning, the capacity to understand, self-awareness, emotional knowledge, planning, creativity, and problem-solving.
One type of intelligence is crystallized intelligence, or the depth of experience and knowledge one has gained over a lifetime (commonly referred to as wisdom). Crystallized intelligence typically improves with age as we build on our knowledge base and have more experiences.
The other type of intelligence is fluid, or the ability to absorb, analyze, and act on new information quickly and efficiently. This peaks in young adulthood and declines over time. And it’s this element of brain power that we notice as a decline in mental acuity.
Mental Acuity and Age
We typically expect the sharpness of the mind to decline due to aging. We may notice that it gets harder to remember things, or process new information. Age-related decline in mental acuity can vary from very mild occasional forgetfulness to severe dementia.
It’s important to note that loss of mental acuity (confusion, repeating oneself, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, and struggling to do things that never posed a problem before) is not a given. People tend to experience loss of mental acuity to different degrees, depending on a number of factors.
How is cognitive aging different from dementia or Alzheimers? Cognitive aging is the brain working less efficiently due to aging or other behavioral factors rather than due to disease. It’s a more gradual onset but does not involve neurodegeneration and does not lead to situations where the person is struggling with basic life responsibilities or is unable to live independently.
Alzheimer’s damages and accelerates the death of neurons. Cognitive aging is not the result of acute neuron damage, but from neurons not working as quickly or efficiently. Normal, age-related decline in mental acuity can be slowed, halted, or potentially even reversed.
Older adults need more time to absorb information, process it, and formulate an appropriate response. This is especially noticeable with complex tasks or challenges that require fast information processing, such as driving.
The following aspects are usually affected:
Working memory: temporarily holding information, such as remembering and dialing a phone number. Older adults often struggle with this.
Prospective memory: remembering to do things in the future, such as picking up the dry-cleaning after work. Older adults often struggle with this.
Episodic memory: recalling personally experienced events, especially recent ones. Older adults often struggle with this.
Procedural memory: learning and remembering how to do certain activities, such as driving. Aging does not appear to have an effect.
Semantic long-term memory: the ability to remember a state capitol. Aging does not appear to have an effect.
Attention, Language, and Communication
Selective attention is the ability to tune out irrelevant information and distractions. Selective attention declines in older adults, as does divided attention and the ability to focus for extended periods of time.
Written language skills aren’t typically affected by aging, but verbal language often is. An older person may struggle to recall a word, even when it comes to familiar objects. An older person may also struggle to understand rapid speech. But this often does not affect one’s ability to read.
Executive functioning is the ability to plan, organize, think abstractly, solve problems and maintain flexibility of thought. This also includes the ability to understand other points of view, change one’s mind, process out-of-the-box thinking, and maintain behavior regulation. All of these elements may decline as a part of aging.
Older adults may take longer to make decisions or struggle to perform more demanding executive functioning, especially when fatigued.
Older adults are generally more positive and optimistic. They often develop a positivity bias (paying more attention to what’s good than what’s bad) and recover faster from negative emotions. But, they may avoid or deny unpleasant situations, which makes them difficult to talk about. In many cases, they put off wills and other end-of-life planning.
When mental acuity declines, it’s important to get a professional evaluation because there may be serious health issues that affect cognitive performance. It may be worth talking to your doctor to determine whether any issues with mental acuity in yourself or a loved one are early-onset Alzheimer’s or are age-related cognitive decline.
Now for the million-dollar question: “Will we all lose our mental sharpness as we get older?”
No. Many people maintain their mental acuity throughout their entire lives. The causes may have nothing to do with aging. Lifestyle factors like diet play a role, and yes, there are a number of things you can do to improve your mental acuity.
What Causes Decline in Mental Acuity?
Outside of aging, many lifestyle factors can contribute to a decline in mental acuity. Chronic stress, a sedentary lifestyle, excess alcohol or drug use, and lack of mental stimulation can all contribute to faster cognitive decline.
Other factors include:
Sleep disturbances disrupt the circadian rhythms, causing sleep deprivation and mental fog.
Poor blood circulation
The brain needs a lot of oxygen to work optimally. If blood oxygen levels are too low due to poor blood circulation, mental acuity suffers.
The gut-brain axis
Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” The vagus nerve, which connects the brain and the gut, is responsible for mood, digestion, heart rate, and immune response. Gut microbes affect your immune system, which affects the inflammatory response. Inflammation can lead to neurodegenerative disorders, including dementia and schizophrenia.
Many people are chronically dehydrated. Even being slightly dehydrated can affect mental acuity. Excessive sugar intake can affect brain connectivity and may even cause brain atrophy.
Depression and anxiety are known to cause people to "freeze" mentally.
Many lifestyle factors can be eliminated or modified, so that's a good place to start.
But another treatment that has resurfaced in recent years turns out to have significant benefits as well. Regular red light therapy treatment can help users maintain mental acuity well into their golden years, improving cognitive performance by treating the root cause.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of red light therapy, an easy and affordable at-home therapeutic solution.
Red Light Therapy and Mental Acuity
Light plays a huge role in the way our brains work.
One of the ways that light affects mental acuity is by regulating the circadian rhythm. Certain wavelengths signal wakefulness and stimulate alertness and focus. Blue light does this as well.
Increased screen time in the evening tends to disturb circadian rhythms and chronic sleep problems, which lead to long-term loss of cognitive performance.
The Power of Light
The ancient healing arts have long used natural sunlight as a treatment for various psychological disorders. Even today, light is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as those with major depression and anxiety.
Isolating red and near infrared (NIR) wavelengths is a safe and effective way to improve brain health. Red Light Therapy doesn’t expose the body to harmful UV rays found in sunlight or bright light therapy. Users of RLT, therefore, get the beneficial wavelengths without the UV risks caused by sun exposure.
Low level light therapy (LLLT) is in some ways similar to RLT, but LLLT involves the use of lasers and is usually conducted in a clinic. In contrast, our treatments can be done at home.
Red light therapy delivers precisely calibrated red/NIR wavelengths. Of all visible and invisible wavelengths, in thousands of studies, red/NIR waves have been shown to have very powerful beneficial effects on the body.
Photobiomodulation has been shown in numerous clinical trials to improve mental health and recovery from traumatic brain injury and strokes and to treat neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
NIR wavelengths positively impact brain health. Red wavelengths are also useful for skin regeneration and skin wound healing.
Longer NIR wavelengths absorb into the tissues beneath the skin. They can penetrate the skull and the brain.
How Red Light Therapy Benefits the Brain
Here's how red light therapy treatment benefits mental acuity:
Red Light Therapy Reduces Neuron Inflammation
In a 2019 landmark paper, photobiomodulation expert Michael R. Hamblin studied the effect of red and NIR wavelengths on the brain. He found that photobiomodulation reduces inflammation in neurons, stating further that “while acute inflammation is positive, chronic inflammation can have very negative effects. Many diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases and mood disorders, can be traced at least in part to chronic inflammation.”
Chronic stress and environmental factors can cause inflammation in the brain, which in turn affects the neurons’ ability to function normally. There are demonstrated links between chronic stress and inflammation, and chronic inflammation and neurodegenerative disorders.
There is also a link between inflammation and poor memory, brain fog, and other signs of mental decline. A 2011 Australian study found a link between inflammation and cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly.
Neuroinflammation activates cells called microglia, which are part of the central nervous system’s immune defense. Microglia constantly hunt for damaged neurons, infections, and other problems, making them vital for treating neurodegenerative disorders.
Dr. Hamblin also wrote that photobiomodulation promotes cell survival by preventing cell death, and by lowering oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants).
Oxidative stress is believed to be one of the main causes of inflammation, which makes it a key player in cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders.
Several studies on TBI noted a reduction in inflammation after patients were treated with red light therapy. In both studies, individuals receiving photobiomodulation with NIR wavelengths saw significant improvements in mental acuity.
One patient experienced an improvement in mental acuity after receiving photobiomodulation, including a renewed ability to pay bills and write checks, which he hadn’t been able to do since his motor vehicle accident.
Another patient experienced a reduction in headaches, less depression and anxiety, and better concentration after treatment.
Reducing brain inflammation could be one of the keys to enhancing cognitive function in both normal and injured or damaged brains.
Red Light Therapy Improves Cellular Energy Production and Performance
Reduced cellular performance is a common sign of aging. It was once widely believed that as we age and neurons die off, they are not replaced. However, this turns out not to be true. According to emerging data, older adults continue to produce new neurons in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, two key components of mental acuity.
However, if those new and existing neurons aren’t working to their full capacity because they can’t produce enough energy, mental acuity will decline. Mitochondrial disorders, where the mitochondria can't produce enough energy, have been directly linked to reduced cognitive function.
What causes mitochondrial dysfunction and poor cellular energy production? The primary culprit is not age, it’s inflammation. It just happens that as we age, we typically have more inflammation in our bodies.
NIR treatment stimulates the mitochondria within each neuron to increase energy production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the primary cellular fuel, and to reduce premature cell death. This can bolster neurons' ability to protect themselves from oxidative stress (which causes inflammation) and helps them self-heal from damage caused by inflammation or toxins.
Increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production and reducing inflammation could be the first step in reducing poor mental acuity or even reversing age-related cognitive decline.
Red Light Therapy Has Neuroprotective Effects
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Though Dr. Hamblin’s paper primarily focused on Alzheimer’s Disease, he argued that stimulating mitochondrial function may shift the microglia from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory. In this sense, it goes from getting rid of the pathogen to protecting the neurons through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that encourage healing.
Photobiomodulation can be thought of as a light-based antioxidant that protects neurons from inflammation and improves mitochondrial function.
Red Light Therapy Increases Circulation
Did you know that your brain uses about 20% of the oxygen you take in through breathing?
Even a small decline in oxygen available for neurons can reduce mental acuity.
Whether a patient has Alzheimer’s or is suffering from TBI, stroke, or age-related cognitive decline, one thing is certain: blood flow matters for mental acuity.
Vascular dysfunction, or poor blood flow, can lead to plaque formation consistent with Alzheimer’s Disease. According to Dr. Hamblin, cerebral circulation and oxygenation increases after photobiomodulation. One of the reasons may be that the treatment promotes an increase in nitric oxide (NO) which enables vasodilation, which in turns promotes better circulation and improved oxygenation of neurons.
NIR wavelengths protect red blood cells from inflammation and promote the growth of vascular endothelial cells, which make up the walls of blood vessels.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Synaptogenesis
Synaptogenesis, or neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change in response to learning or after injury. Photobiomodulation, according to Dr. Hamblin, facilitates neural organization or communication between neurons.
High-performing cells produce enough energy to heal, communicate, and perform their specialized functions at a much higher level than if they were struggling for survival after being damaged and depleted. Therefore, neural communication is vital for cognitive performance; and red light therapy can help.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Stem Cell Synthesis
Stem cells are essential for health. They are the raw materials from which all other cells form. They proliferate in bone marrow and mobilize to the site of an injury or cell damage where they divide into “daughter cells” which then differentiate, becoming either specialized cells such as neurons, or new stem cells.
NIR wavelengths can absorb into the bones and stimulate stem cell synthesis. In an animal study on the effects of photobiomodulation on Alzheimer's Disease, researchers found a distinct therapeutic effect on mice with Alzheimer’s when the bone marrow in their legs was exposed to NIR wavelengths.
Red Light Therapy Promotes Sleep
Sleep is essential for mental acuity. Yet, many of us don't get enough quality sleep or we sleep too little. In today's digital age, poor sleep is often attributed to artificial light after dark and in particular, blue light emitted by our electronic devices and LED fixtures. Although, blue light in panel form has therapeutic benefits.
A study involving elite basketball players revealed that photobiomodulation improves sleep, which translated to better athletic performance. As we now know, blue light can cause sleep disturbances but red light signals relaxation, so a bedtime session can boost mental acuity, brain health, and help restore circadian rhythms.
Red Light Improves Moods
Depression and anxiety can be directly linked to poor mental acuity. Red light therapy was used as a placebo in a study focused on the effects of bright light on seasonal affective disorders.
Patients were treated for two hours with either bright light or dim red light. During the first hour, the red light elicited similar mood scores as the more intense bright light. It was only in the second hour that intense bright light therapy showed more mood-enhancing effects than the dim red treatment, suggesting that short daily photobiomodulation could improve moods as a way to improve mental acuity.
Red Light Therapy Solutions to Improve Mental Acuity
Thanks to advances in light emitting diode (LED) technology, it’s now possible to boost mental acuity and overall brain health at home using red light therapy.
Of course, photobiomodulation should never be used as a substitute for medical care, especially in the case of serious neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, severe depression, anxiety, other psychological disorders, stroke, or TBI.
Always seek a doctor's advice if you show any signs of cognitive problems. Photobiomodulation can be a valuable asset in treating various brain conditions, but must never replace prescribed treatments.
With that said using photobiomodulation to boost executive function, memory recall, and information processing can be done by anyone, even outside of a clinical setting.
How to Use Red Light Therapy to Improve Mental Acuity at Home
Natural red light therapy can boost your mental sharpness and brain health in the comfort of home.
Powerful Light Output = Results
Choose a powerful, quality medical-grade device. Small, underpowered devices like LED face masks don’t have the intensity to deliver the intensity of light needed for therapeutic benefits.
You will need a powerful LED device that can deliver enough light energy to ensure maximum absorption.
Use Red and NIR Together
Choose a device that emits both red and NIR wavelengths. You'll want both because photobiomodulation has an incredible range of therapeutic applications throughout the body. Some of these favor red wavelengths for treating things like skin disorders and others favor NIR, for treating joint pain and deep inflammation.
Enjoy Daily Red Light Therapy Treatments for Best Results
Sit close to the device, and face the device so that the light is directly aimed at your forehead.
Wear light-blocking goggles to avoid eye strain. The treatment is considered safe for the eyes, but the intensity can be uncomfortable.
Relax, and enjoy a short 3-5 minute daily treatment. Treatment works best when it is daily and done in short sessions.
Platinum therapy lights allow for a cognitive enhancement unlike anything else on the market!
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy
Dr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Platinum Therapy Lights panels have:
- The highest light energy power (irradiance) of any LED device in their power class
- The only panels that deliver a patent-pending combination of five of the most therapeutic red/NIR wavelengths in a ratio that delivers optimal results
Choose from four sizes of panels depending on your “big picture” health needs. Each BIOMAX panel, regardless of its size, features the same potent 5-wavelength array of red/NIR wavelengths.
To improve your mental acuity, the BIOMAX 300 or BIOMAX 450 devices are solid choices. For conditions such as neuropathic foot pain or chronic skin disorders, or to boost athletic performance, larger devices such as the BIOMAX 600 or BIOMAX 900 are more practical.
red and NIR wavelengths, treat yourself at home using the world's best red light therapy panels.