Lighting for Senior Living
An often overlooked, but incredibly important aspect of community design is sufficient lighting for senior living. As people age they become more dependent on a supportive environment to compensate for decreasing mobility and sensory loss. However, the amount of light in senior living communities is seldom sufficient to meet the visual needs of older adults.
A study surveying senior living communities found that lighting in communities ranged from 50% to 65% lower than recommended minimum light levels. Lack of illumination creates a higher risk of accidental falls and greater disorientation in dementia patients. Additionally, with age older adults experience decreasing levels of light reaching the retina. Older adults require up to 4x more illumination intensity than younger adults and within senior living, residents receive far less bright light exposure than their same-age counterparts living at home. The above factors impact independence, confidence, and mobility– even when moving around in familiar spaces.
A key solution is customized lighting for senior living. Sufficient lighting can help compensate for vision impairments, improve safety, and provide a better atmosphere for residents to live in.
Poor lighting is one of the largest risk factors for falls. Residents with low light conditions are 1.5 times as likely to experience a fall as those with adequate lighting. Poor, unplanned, and harsh interior lighting can create severe glare or too many shadows, especially at night. Glare and shadows can be confused for obstacles and increase the potential for missteps and trips. These issues create a serious need for lighting intervention in personal spaces.
The risk of accidental falls is greater at night due to poor vision in overly dark rooms. In fact, up to 40% of assisted living falls occur at night. Older adults’ eyes are more sensitive to transitions between light and dark. When the transition is too abrupt it is disorienting and vision is compromised. Well-designed lighting in specific areas of an older adults’ living space can drastically improve safety.
Proper Lighting for Fall Prevention
A community can implement overhead lights, guide lights, and work lights to increase visibility and prevent light related falls.
Since overhead lighting is the major source of lighting for a room it should allow for glare-free illumination and adjustable brightness. During transitions from day to night, overhead lights need to turn on and off gradually to give older adults’ eyes time to adjust to the change.
Guide and work lights should be incorporated throughout the living space for added safety, visibility, and accessibility. Guide lights illuminate the ground throughout the room at night to indicate where the bed and bathroom are located. Work lights such as wall mounted lights or reading lights allow more options for visibility and let older adults customize their space in a way that is comfortable for them.
Optimized Lighting for Memory Care
In memory care communities, lighting in residents’ bedrooms should encourage safety and promote biological regulation. To promote safety, overhead lighting should provide intense illumination and a low amount of shadow or glare to avoid missteps and trip hazards. Memory care residents should also have automated guide lights throughout their living space to illuminate where they are going in times of low visibility and at night.
To promote biological regulation, lighting changes throughout the day should assist in circadian rhythm regulation. In a study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers provided dementia patients with bright, blue-white light during the day and dimmer yellow-white light in the evening, as a way to imitate the body’s circadian rhythms. Blue light in the morning promotes stimulation and indicates it is time to get up for the day. Warm light in the evening promotes a calming effect and encourages the body to rest. As a result, sleep disturbance, poor mood, and agitation were reduced. Memory care communities can incorporate similar lighting colors to achieve similar results in their communities.
Smart Home Lighting Integration
New smart home technology can allow for automatic activation or hands-free use of lights. This can be done in many ways, such as voice control, movement sensors, smartphone apps, and remotes. This technology creates even more accessibility and customization for lighting in senior living and can be a great solution for residents who have limited mobility or require more attentive care.
If optimized lighting for senior living is not something you’ve considered yet, it may be time to do so. Using light can be a simple and effective way to create comfortable and safe living spaces for all residents, especially those who may be prone to falls or have dementia.