An important ‘Innovators In Residential Care Event’ will take place on-line on March 7, 2023 examining the support and care that curated lighting can have for those suffering with dementia. Register here.

Dementia was the second leading cause of death for men in the UK in 2019. One person is diagnosed with this devastating degenerative condition somewhere in the world every three seconds. The personal and financial costs are immense and rising: an estimated £25 billion in the UK. 40% of that is the cost of informal care. 70% of those in long-term care are living with distressing symptoms that include disturbed sleep, memory loss and depression.

A growing body of evidence suggests that lighting that was originally developed to support the sleep, mental focus and mod of astronauts on the space station can deliver substantial and sustained benefits for older adults with dementia down here on earth. Large-scale studies show significant reduction in falls due to night-time wandering, cognitive decline and depression. However, despite the evidence and availability of effective, affordable and sustainable lighting solutions, very few healthcare providers are adopting these approaches.

Lighting consultant and TEDX speaker Dr Shelley James is on a mission to change that. Those in the tech and particularly the lighting industry are being encouraged to join this ground-breaking online debate between leading scientists, pioneering residential care home providers and lighting professionals from around the world to discuss the principles and practical solutions to support people living with dementia – and offer a brighter future for us all.

Following opening remarks by Professor Russell Foster MBE, attendees will hear from three scientists about new frontiers in lighting research: sleep, acute effects of light on mood and cognition and research methods. Three healthcare providers from the USA, Denmark and the UK will then explain how they have applied these principles in the real world. Finally, they will share the problems they have faced, their results, and their vision for the future. Guests will be invited to ask questions of the panel before closing remarks by Helen Loomes, incoming President of the Society of Light and Lighting.

The problem

According to UK Care, average care home fees range from £27,000 to £39,000 per annum for a residential care home. Those costs increase to £35,000 – £55,000 per year if nursing care is needed. Despite the high cost, residents face a significantly greater risk of death from physical and mental health conditions, from falls to inappropriate medication and infectious diseases. According to the Lancet, the age-adjusted risk of death is ten times higher for care home residents compared to those living in private homes.

That deadly multiplier rose to 17 times during the first wave of COVID-19. Families cite night-time wandering, memory loss and depression as the main reasons they take the painful decision to place their loved one into care. The great news is that the right light at the right time (‘circadian’ or cycled lighting) can help to provide effective relief for those devastating symptoms and those who care for them.

NASA pioneered this approach as they saw the astronauts living on the space station struggling to sleep. NASA knew that coffee and sleeping pills were not a solution. So they spent billions of dollars to design powerful energy-efficient lighting systems to mirror the life-affirming cycle of bright days, soft evenings and dark nights of life down here on earth.

Large-scale trials in residential care homes have built on NASA’s discoveries to harness the potential of light to tackle the core symptoms of dementia. The results are heart-warming and offer a ray of hope for millions.  One Harvard study of the impact of circadian lighting in this setting recorded a 43% reduction in nighttime falls, improved mood, and slower cognitive decline. Other research shows a reduced need for sleep medication, reduced ‘sundowning’ agitation, and greater expressions of alertness and emotion, even among the most severely demented residents. 

These improvements in quality of life are remarkable enough. The financial benefits are equally rewarding, with reduced costs of medication and hospital admissions due to falls and viral infections.

So why isn’t circadian lighting everywhere?

Dr Shelley James has been asking just that question. She was shocked to find that despite growing evidence for the benefits and practical and energy-efficient lighting solutions coming to market, most older adults living in long-term care still do not receive the natural light-dark cycle they so desperately need. 

Her research found that light levels in most care homes during the day are a fraction of the minimum brightness that our body clocks need to wake up. Daylight is the obvious solution, but the average resident goes outside for less than three minutes per month. Moreover, being woken up by routine checks at night confuse residents’ ageing body clocks that are already struggling to stay on track with the combined effects of age and dementia. As we get older, the strength of the hormone signals that regulate the sleep-wake cycle becomes weaker.

At the same time, the part of the brain that drives the body clock becomes smaller as dementia progresses. Finally, gradual yellowing and clouding of the transparent gel in the eye and changes in the pupil mean less light gets into the brain. These factors combine to create a twilight existence for millions of older adults. This situation contributes to the distress of disrupted sleep and nighttime wandering, confusion and depression. 

Dr Shelley spoke to healthcare providers about the potential for light to transform the quality of life for residents and staff. Most were unaware of the potential benefits, or concerned that these approaches were expensive marketing hype or too complicated for them. She also reached out to scientists leading the field. They expressed frustration that their findings were rarely understood or translated into practical solutions that could make a real impact.

Dr Shelley realised there needed to be an open forum for scientists and healthcare providers to share knowledge about the principles and practice of lighting for the residential care sector. So she teamed up with lighting industry bodies, media partners and commercial sponsors to do just that. 

Event and Contact information

Dr Shelley James


Email: shelley@ageoflightinnovations


Event link here.

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