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Center for Compassionate Care Innovation

Veteran with TBI says LED treatment has significantly improved his sleep, activity levels, and well-being

Michael Sellars, a former U.S. Army field artillery officer, experienced multiple traumatic brain injury (TBI) events during his 32 years of military service. By 2018, he says his chronic TBI symptoms had grown so intrusive that he was sleeping only one or two hours at a time. He also was dissatisfied with how the standard medication for his symptoms made him feel.

“You do the best you can to live with it the best you can,” Mr. Sellars says of his experience dealing with symptoms of TBI, including headaches and difficulty sleeping, which gradually worsened over time. He personally felt that the medications he was taking weren’t the best choice for him among the variety of treatment options available at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He wanted to explore other ways to treat his TBI symptoms.

Since he started a home-based course of treatment using light-emitting diode (LED) therapy equipment last year, Mr. Sellars has experienced a noticeable improvement in his overall well-being. “I sleep so much better. I'm much more likely to be active and engaged in doing things. In general, I feel better. It really has made a significant change to me, personally,” he says.

The treatment that Mr. Sellars is receiving is part of a collaborative, three-year clinical demonstration project that is led by the VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHCS) LED TBI clinic and supported by CCI.

CCI’s mission is to explore emerging therapies that are safe and ethical to enhance Veterans’ physical and mental well-being when other treatments have not been successful. TBI is one of CCI’s focus areas, along with suicide prevention, posttraumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain.

After being referred to and evaluated by VA Boston’s clinicians, Mr. Sellers started wearing an LED headset for 25 minutes, three times a week, in the privacy and convenience of his home. The headset is affixed with LEDs, which do not generate heat. The process is painless and noninvasive, and the equipment is portable so that Veterans can still access the treatment if they travel.

Research1 on2 LED3 therapy to date suggests that the treatment may help with symptoms associated with TBI — such as impaired mood, memory, or attention — and that it promotes healing at the cellular level, due in part to the specialized light’s ability to increase blood flow. More than 100 Veterans have benefited so far from VABHCS’s LED therapy offering, which is not part of the clinical research program. Many of the Veterans treated in this clinical demonstration project have reported improvements in health factors that have persisted for years, such as sleep and mood issues.

One year after he started the treatment program, Mr. Sellars continues to use the LED equipment, which he calls “extremely relaxing,” three times a week. He talks once per month by phone with his VA health care provider, who ensures that he is using the device properly, records his treatment activity, and determines if he needs any follow-ups with other providers.

Mr. Sellars says he highly recommends that other Veterans give the technology a chance. He also advises that Veterans follow the prescriber’s instructions, including using the device in quiet conditions. “You can't sit in a room with several people or have the TV on,” he says.

When asked about his overall experience with the LED treatment, Mr. Sellars says: “I’m solidly behind it. I hope it can be expanded because I think a lot of Veterans can benefit from it.”

For the latest information on this and other innovative treatments, please visit:

1Quirk, B.J., Torbey, M., Buchmann, E., Verma, S., Whelan, H.T. (2012). Near-infrared photobiomudulation in an animal model of traumatic brain injury: improvements at the behavioral and biochemical levels. Department of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin. doi: 10.1089/pho.2012.3261.

2Hipskind, S.G., Grover, F.L. Jr., Fort, T.R., Helffenstein D., Burke, T.J., Quint, S.A., Bussiere, G., Stone, M., Hurtado, T. (2019). Pulsed Transcranial Red/Near-Infrared Light Therapy Using Light-Emitting Diodes Improves Cerebral Blood Flow and Cognitive Function in Veterans with Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury: A Case Series. Photobiomodul Photomed Laser Surg. doi: 10.1089/photob.2018.4489.

3Chao, LL. Improvements in Gulf War Illness Symptoms After Near-Infrared Transcranial and Intranasal Photobiomodulation: Two Case Reports. (2019). Mil Med. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usz037.

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Posted December 5, 2019