Breakthrough in gerontology? “Dynamic, ambient light improves the wellbeing and health for elderly”

What if lighting could help the elderly to a happier and healthier life? Actually, it can! A new research project at Lund University indicates that dynamic, ambient light is a good recipe for golden oldies.

We live longer. As the average life expectancy increases, we are also increasing our expectations for a long and happy life. Retirement is postponed and people often choose to work into their 70’s. Consequently, there are many reasons to do research in the gerontological field. 

“Current and future retirees want to live an active life and want to remain living in their home environment as long as possible. It is also becoming more common to be cared for in one’s own home”, says Tommy Govén, researcher in Light and Lighting, who conducted the study with Prof. Thorbjörn Laike at Lund University. 

The research duo specialise in investigating how people are affected by increased ambient light, with their previous work focusing on students in primary and secondary schools. Now, they are looking into the situations of the elderly. The study is yet not complete and will be presented at the 28th CIE Session in Manchester, June 28th to July 4th. 

Customised led-lighting

The aim was to explore whether dynamic ambient lighting may have a positive impact on the alertness, wellbeing and health of the elderly. The study was conducted in a nursing home with participants over the age of 80. A specially designed LED-luminaire for increased, glare-free, ambient lighting was designed and installed in the different rooms of the nursing home – the resident’s bedroom, the day room and the dining room. Fagerhult contributed in the development of the luminaire and has also been involved in developing control- and measurement equipment as well programming of the different lighting scenes.

The study was conducted over one year, investigating the resident’s feelings regarding light experience, wellbeing, alertness and sleep during the four seasons. Other parameters considered were nutrition and medication as well as energy consumption.  

Supports circadian rhythm 

Every one of us is affected by the seasons and the availability and absence of light. When getting older, the circadian rhythm is disturbed by various reasons. 

“The lens of the ageing eye leads less light to the retina and elderly who have difficulties moving may not have the opportunity to take advantage of the daylight outdoors. This may disturb the circadian rhythm, leading to sleep disorders. Our hope is that the dynamic ambient light can make a difference”, explains Tommy Govén. 

Although no results yet been presented, it looks very promising, he reveals:

“The test persons’ subjective experience is that they felt less drowsy and more alert during the days, even in the dark season. The quality of sleep was also better for the experimental group; they tended to wake up less during the night. We have also noted fewer injuries due to falls during the test period. An interesting turn is that all subjects have asked to maintain their new lighting…”

If the presented results meet expectations, this knowledge may contribute to a new way of lighting the living environments of the elderly. 

“For the individual it means improved quality of life and health. For society, there are possibilities to major savings from less institutionalisation and lower costs for medication or treatment of injuries.” 

It’s time to enjoy our otium.