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.

Valuing daylight

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.

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