Donated light boxes to brighten NH vets home

New Hampshire winters can be long and dark, but residents at the state nursing home for veterans may soon be looking on the bright side with the installation of a so-called solar cafe built around donated light boxes.

Staff members at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton were working to look beyond medication to treat depression and other issues when a local motorcycle retailer offered to raise money to help the home last fall. After matching and adding to donations collected from customers, Laconia Harley-Davidson recently purchased 13 medical light boxes for the home, which is figuring out how best to use them.

The psychiatrist who visits the home once a week has suggested creating a solar cafe where residents and staff could gather for coffee, doughnuts, activities and light therapy, said nurse practitioner Jonna Prendiville.

‘‘We have noticed a rather high prevalence of depression in the elderly, which certainly goes along with the health problems and emotional losses that older people experience, and we’ve also noticed that seasonal affective disorder can be a component,’’ she said. ‘‘We really want to treat their depression with an antidepressant if needed, and use the light box as an adjunct, to help with people’s energy level, alertness during the day and ultimately help them sleep better at night.’’

Seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD, is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter. Four to 6 percent of people in the United States suffer from it, and another 10 to 20 percent may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD, the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates.

Treatment often involves sitting in front of a special lamp with a very bright light that mimics sunlight for 20-30 minutes each day. That could be particularly effective for patients with dementia who might not have the attention span for longer alternative treatments, Prendiville said, but she expects most of the home’s 200 or so residents could benefit from it in some way.

It was serendipitous that the light boxes were donated just in time for winter, and at a time when the nursing home industry as a whole is assessing whether medication is always the best choice for depression and other psychiatric ailments, said Barry Conway, commandant of the veterans home.

‘‘It’s not going to be a silver bullet, but it’s going to be a big help,’’ he said.

Ross Houston, the general manager of Laconia Harley-Davidson, said he was a bit surprised when officials at the home put light boxes at the top of their wish list. He moved to New Hampshire three years ago after growing in Florida, where seasonal affective disorder is less common. But once he learned more about the issue, he was thrilled to be able to help.

About a third of Harley-Davidson riders are veterans, and the shop in Meredith has made a point of supporting veterans’ causes over the years, Houston said.

‘‘We owe it to these folks to recognize the efforts they’ve made and make their lives more comfortable,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a wonderful feeling to know people are going to get the help they need.’’

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