Dementia-friendly environments: Lighting
Good lighting and dementia care
People with dementia need to see their environment to help make sense of it and to make the most of their remaining abilities. Effective lighting can help people with dementia see where they want to go and to identify spaces, rooms, equipment and signs. It helps them to see other people's faces and body language, to enjoy recreational activities, to join in everyday routines, and to enjoy the changing seasons.
Effective lighting can help people with dementia identify spaces, rooms, equipment and signs.
Poor lighting will substantially reduce a person's ability to do all these things. It can also contribute to accidents, particularly falls, and cause unnecessary stress (for example, being frightened by misinterpreting shadows).
Ageing and impaired vision
Ageing eyes need twice as much light as young eyes – and people with dementia need even more. For older people, contrast is reduced and some colours are hard to see. Good lighting and design can make the difference between seeing and not seeing for older people with impaired vision, and between comfort and discomfort. A person with dementia has difficulty making sense of or recognising what they see – if they can’t see things physically as well, it is twice as hard for them as anyone else.
What is effective lighting?
Effective lighting involves a combination of increased light levels, good contrast, minimising glare, avoiding sudden changes in light levels and good colour definition. Quality lighting is a vital component of good dementia-friendly design.
Daylight should be used wherever possible because it delivers good colour interpretation – and it's free. It is important to make the most of windows and doors that bring in light. Doing simple things such as cleaning windows regularly, opening blinds and moving furniture that is blocking natural light can make a difference.
Being out in daylight is very important for improving mood and body rhythms, increasing vitamin D levels and promoting sleep at night. Balconies and court yards can be valuable spaces for this (see the Gardens feature in this section).
Managing light sources
You can manage sunlight with blinds, curtains and external shading devices. Use a range of artificial lights to reduce glare: main, centrally positioned lights, wall-mounted lights and freestanding lamps. Cover surfaces to reduce glare or high reflection. Having more light fittings is better than fewer brighter ones. Indirect lighting via the ceiling is good and local lighting should be adjustable and movable as needed.
Warning about low-energy lights
Be careful about where you use low-energy lights – they take a long time to get up to the right light level. This makes them dangerous to use in stairwells as the person may switch on the light and start to climb up or down before the light is bright enough to see. You also need to change the bulbs frequently, even if they are still working, because over time they give out less and less light.
Access and download additional resources
Further reading Open
Dementia Services Development Centre (2007) Best practice in design for people with dementia, Stirling: Dementia Services Development Centre, Stirling University.
Dementia Services Development Centre (2008) Design for people with dementia: Audit tool, Stirling: Dementia Services Development Centre, Stirling University.
DSDC Virtual care home: The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre has produced this ‘Virtual care home’, which allows users to navigate around the various areas within a care home (such as bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, kitchens, lounges and so on), and read advice about things to consider and ways to improve the care environment for people with dementia.
Pollock, R., McNair, D., MacGuire, B. and Cunningham, C. (2008) Designing lighting for people with dementia, Stirling: Dementia Services Development Centre, Stirling University in association with the Institution of Lighting Engineers.
Royal National Institute of Blind People and Thomas Pocklington Trust (2008) Make the most of your sight: Improve the lighting in your home, London: Royal National Institute of Blind People.
www.theilp.org.uk: This is the website for the Institution of Lighting Professionals (ILP), the UK and Ireland’s largest professional lighting association. ILP provides information, events, training, exhibitions and a range of other resources, and could be a good first port of call for anyone interested in improving lighting in a care setting.
Useful links Open
Dementia-friendly health and social care environments
This 2015 resource from the Department of Health presents design guidance in relation to new buildings as well as the adaption or extension of existing facilities, and includes case studies drawn from projects funded by the Dementia Capital Programme.
Design Resource Centre
The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has always been a leader in the area of dementia and design. The DSDC website includes the Design Resource Centre. This section includes links to a substantial range of publications and resources in the area of dementia-friendly design including information on the importance of lighting, colour and contrast, getting outside, and orientation and signage. The site also includes the DSDC Virtual Care Home and the DSDC Virtual Hospital. Both these resources allow users to navigate around the various areas within a care home or hospital (such as bedroom, ward, ensuite, kitchens, lounges and so on), and read advice about things to consider and ways to improve the care environment for people with dementia.
Developing supportive design for people with dementia
This is the final report of The King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Healing Environment (EHE) Programme, which ran from 2009 until 2012. The well-illustrated report includes descriptions of the 26 EHE projects completed in NHS Trusts to improvement the environment of care for people with dementia, and also includes the EHE assessment tool and overarching design principles.
Home environment and dementia
This NHS Choices web page sets out good introductory information on how to improve the environment for a person living with dementia. It covers topics such as lighting, flooring, colours, noise and outside spaces.
Making your home dementia-friendly
This 2015 Alzheimer’s Society booklet is aimed at people living at home. It covers a wide range of topics such as lighting, flooring, furniture and furnishings, knowing where things are, and enjoying the outside.
Related pages from this section Open