Although good lighting can improve vision and overall quality of life in the lives of adults with dementia, it’s often overlooked. For example, we may think the person has lost the ability to read, but sometimes it’s poor lighting – not dementia – that makes it difficult to participate in reading or other activities.
Good lighting can reduce falls and make it safer to get around. For example, good lighting – especially at nighttime – can help a person see any clutter that may have accumulated on the floor that may lead to a serious fall.
Good lighting can also reduce hallucinations for those who misinterpret what they see in a poorly lit room. For example, in low lighting, a large leafy plant may be misinterpreted as a lurking stranger within the shadows.
Studies have also shown that bright morning light can improve sleep. Exposure to bright light produces melatonin, the hormone that tells our bodies it’s time to sleep.
For many older adults, increased lighting can help a person see better. Some adults with low vision, however, may require either higher or lower light levels, depending on the impairment.
For example, adults with macular degeneration usually require increased illumination, especially for task lighting, but individuals with cataracts may be more comfortable with lower light levels.
Ways to Improve Lighting for Dementia Patients
There are several ways you can improve the lighting-
1. Increase Walking Around & Task (Activity) Lighting! You can use higher wattage light bulbs – but only if safe to do so, add more table and standing lamps – but not near walkway as well as use night-lights.
2. Reduce Glare! Regardless of the type of visual impairment the person has, a key element to lighting for adults with low vision is glare free. So make sure to hang sheers & blinds on all windows and cover all bulbs with shades. Make sure no exposed bulb is in person’s eye while sitting or laying in bed and always use “full spectrum” bulbs.
3. Balance the Light! Make sure there are no dark areas in the room and that there are no dark adjoining hallways.
If the person has tried to take the lamp apart, get a tamperproof lamp to reduce chances of electrical shock. Also consider making or purchasing a special “handyman’s box,” full of small doors, locks, and hinges, with which they can safely fiddle.
Some lamps are only wired for a 60-watt bulb and a higher wattage bulb would be a fire hazard. If you don’t know the lamp’s rating and you need wattage over 60 watts, consider a 32-watt compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) which gives the same amount of light as a 100- watt bulb. However, as some CFL’s are up to 2 inches longer than a regular incandescent bulb, you’ll need to make sure that the bulb fits the existing lamp
Good kitchen lighting can really help the person see and function better. It makes it easier for the person to see the food he or she is preparing and eating, and the on-and-off appliance controls.
Good lighting can also reduce dark or shadowy areas, which can cause hallucinations for those with dementia. In addition, it may also make the room cheerier and enhance the person’s mood.
But aging eyes are extremely sensitive to glare. Glaring light from windows and bulbs can trigger agitation so make sure to:
- cover all bulbs with shades
- use window treatments, such as blinds or drapes, to filter out the sun or harsh light
- and use a tablecloth to cover the table if it has a shiny finish.
Remember, small changes can make a big difference!
Good lighting can reduce falls, make it safer to get around, and help with grooming. So make sure there’s adequate lighting for both walking around and for activities like shaving or brushing teeth.
Cover all light bulbs because glare from exposed bulbs is very hard on older eyes. Consider installing a dimmer switch, which allows you to change the light levels for daytime and nighttime lighting. This allows you to leave the lights on very low for nighttime bathroom trips – or install night lights.
A motion light, one that turns on when a person’s presence is detected, can be very helpful, but make sure the bulb isn’t too bright for nighttime use.
A heat lamp is a great addition to the bathroom since many older adults become agitated during bathing when cold and wet. Heat lamps are available in combination with regular lights and with exhaust fans.