Lighting the way forward for quality seniors living

When you think of designing for aged care, the use of light might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But a growing body of evidence suggests the clever use of lighting can have extraordinary effects on seniors’ health, safety and peace of mind.

In addition to the practical need for good lighting for clinical purposes – providing medical care, administering medication, etc. – lighting can be used in a way that helps reduce the likelihood of falls, improve sleep quality, and create a general feeling of comfort and security, allowing residents to feel more at home. It’s a concept that’s being widely implemented throughout Europe and one that will no doubt benefit future aged care developments in Australia.

Health and wellbeing

Lighting has always been used by interior designers as a way to ‘set the mood’, but in aged care the need for good lighting goes beyond aesthetics. Poor lighting can create undesirable shapes and shadows, lead to a sense of unease amongst residents. Instead, light needs to be distributed evenly in a way that includes large amounts of indirect light and glare reduction to create a warm atmosphere and sense of security.

According to Ravi Kumar from lighting specialists, Waldmann Australia, lighting can also be used to improve overall health and wellbeing for seniors.

“Positive examples from Europe, in particular Germany, show that the lighting in nursing homes has a much stronger influence on the residents and their well-being, health, frequency of falls, willingness to be active, daily structure, nursing times, and quality of care.

“Light distribution and the rhythm of the daily structure are very important in seniors care and can also be used as a way to help with dementia, visual and hearing deficits, and perception disorders.”

Reduced risk of falls

Because eyesight decreases with age, elderly people require far more light to see adequately; and therefore too little light raises the risk of falling. Mr Kumar said the right lighting can have a dramatic reduction in the number of falls.

“With Waldmann’s lighting systems – which are at least 50% indirect via the ceiling and walls – we create a ‘low-shadow, glare-free light’ with homogeneous illumination of the room. This helps a lot with cognitive disorders. Studies and feedback from operators show that this supports fall prevention enormously; in face we can reduce the number of falls by around 95% when compared to comparable facilities simply by implementing the right lighting.”

Human centric lighting: biodynamic lighting systems

Human Centric Lighting (HCL) is designed to affect the third receptor in the eye that controls the human biological clock. Controlling the production of melatonin, these receptors register the varying levels of light during the day and regulate our biological clock accordingly. Traditionally, artificial lights in clinical settings don’t send the right cues to keep our daily rhythms in check, so designers are now turning to biodynamic lighting systems to help replicate the changing light patterns of sunlight over a 24-hour period.

Mr Kumar told us that Waldmann has installed over 300 care facilities with this lighting system in Germany, with excellent results.

“The feedback from users about their experience with human centric lighting is extremely positive. They report higher activity of the residents during the day and better and more restful sleep at night.

“Beyond providing a steady day/night rhythm, doctors tell us that it can go so far as reducing the risk of delirium in dementia patients who no longer walk around aimlessly, and they can see a direct effect on individual symptoms in clients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. These are extraordinary benefits that vastly improve the quality of life for some of these senior residents.”

HCL hasn’t yet been widely adopted in Australia, however, a number of new aged care developments are exploring these biodynamic lighting options.

Improving aged care in Australia

With a strong focus on the improvement of Australia’s aged care industry, there’s a lot we can learn from the way countries across Europe – particularly Germany – have implemented clever lighting design. From well lit rooms that include indirect light and glare reduction, to biodynamic systems that provide a steady day/night rhythm, the implementation of light as a way to improve the health, security and wellbeing of aged care residents is absolutely something that should be considered for all new aged care developments and upgrades.

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