Let There Be Light

Health & Wellbeing
by Steven

I recently attended the International Design School, facilitated by the Dementia Centre at HammondCare, which brings together people to understand and improve dementia care design.  An important discussion was lighting and the impact that light has on residents.  It was stressed that dementia is not only a condition impacting on memory, but affects the person’s physical and psychological wellbeing.

Lighting is a critical element in the human centred design of spaces and particularly for those with dementia.  For people who are ageing light and visibility is impacted by:

  1. The ageing eye
  2. The ageing brain
  3. Dementia

As we know, the human eye deteriorates with ageing as less light gets to the back of the retina.  For example, a 75yr old receives 50% of the light that a 45yo receives. The eye lens yellows distorting colour perception and the iris of the eye contracts more slowly, resulting in distorted depth perception.

How information is received and interpreted with dementia impacts on what is actually ‘seen’.  This includes impaired sensitivity to spatial contrast or difficulty in discriminating motion. It also affects …

  • How their surroundings are interpreted, leading to confusion
  • Their ability to read signs or visual cues
  • Being able to effectively participate in activities
  • Reduced safety and higher risk of falls

Factors affecting the amount of light received include artificial and natural lighting, lightness of surfaces, the size of spaces and window treatments. Through sensitive lighting design, the experiences can be improved in dementia care.

  • Toilets and communal spaces are more visible
  • Landmarks are recognised
  • Faces, gestures and body language can be seen
  • Day-to-day personal activities are easily carried out
  • Features of day/night (circadian rhythms) and seasonal changes are easily viewed
  • Recreational activities are enjoyed

Increasing light levels will improve the way that a person suffering from Dementia sees their surroundings.  Lighting must be designed or adjusted to reflect the particular activity or disability, resulting in more human centred design.  Doubling the standard light levels in dementia environments, and improving the even distribution of light, goes a long way to improve the quality of space and the lives of residents.


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