Something as simple as exposure to daylight can significantly impact our daily routines, and this is especially true for people with dementia. Sometimes making simple adjustments to lighting can restore the body’s circadian rhythms and help people with dementia feel more comfortable and less stressed. Understanding how people with dementia respond to lighting and implementing best practices with indoor lighting can make a significant difference in their quality of life.
How Natural Light Affects Circadian Rhythms
Sunlight sends signals to the body that it’s time to be awake, and the absence of natural light means it’s time to prepare for sleep. The body’s response to different types of light can also impact hormonal and metabolic processes, as well as the internal clock that provides the rhythm to our sleep-wake cycles. A disruption in how we experience natural light can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. For example, being indoors all day without enough bright daylight or being exposed to too much artificial lighting at night from fluorescent lights or screens can disrupt a person’s sleep-wake cycles.
Circadian rhythm is the body’s internal process that regulates a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. When the circadian rhythm is in balance, the benefits include better-quality sleep and higher levels of energy and focus during awake hours.
Circadian lighting is an approach to indoor lighting that mimics the effects of natural daylight to restore the body’s internal clock and reinforce healthy circadian rhythms with a more predictable sleep-wake cycle. A circadian lighting system seeks to replicate the spectrum of natural daylight while indoors, which involves using brighter light in the mornings and dimmer lights in the afternoons and evenings.
At Westminster Village, we keep up with the latest research and technology designed to improve the lives of people with dementia. We know that using circadian lighting indoors provides a stronger daytime light signal, which helps promote a healthy circadian rhythm. Providing consistent access to the outdoors in a safe environment is another way to help increase natural daylight exposure. Minimizing unnecessary and distracting sources of light in the nighttime also helps promote quality sleep.
Benefits of Circadian Lighting for People with Dementia
When a person isn’t receiving light signals that let their body know it’s daytime or nighttime, this leads to circadian disruption. This could be described as a state of “biological twilight,” with mixed signals and ongoing confusion about when to sleep and when to be awake.
Dementia symptoms often cloud a person’s ability to think clearly, and problems with vision and/or lighting can make things worse. Sometimes people with dementia feel like they’re living in a perpetual fog. Increased confusion, anxiety, agitation, wandering, and disorientation may begin around dusk and continue into the night, disrupting the body’s sleep-wake cycle. This end-of-the-day confusion for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is known as “sundowning.”
Daylight can stimulate the circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep cycles for older adults and people with dementia. Some of the benefits of using circadian lighting in a memory care community include:
- Improved mood. Sunlight is a proven mood booster for people of all ages. For seniors with dementia, use of circadian lighting can help reduce agitation during the most challenging times of day.
- Better sleep. Restoring the natural circadian rhythm with the right lighting at different times of day can help people with dementia sleep better and with fewer disruptions at night.
- Increased alertness. When residents experience the benefits of bright light during the day, they can use their energy in their awake hours, and let their mind and body rest in the nighttime.
- Reduced nighttime wandering. A natural circadian rhythm allows residents to experience a greater sense of calm in the evenings, which prevents the escalation of “sundowning” symptoms such as nighttime wandering.
Creating a Calming Environment for Memory Care
Magnolia Court, Memory Care at Westminster Village in West Lafayette, provides a safe and supportive environment for your loved one in a newly constructed neighborhood designed specifically to care for those suffering from cognitive impairment. We offer an innovative approach to memory care with the implementation of circadian lighting systems throughout, sensory spaces and Heartfelt Connections – A Memory Care Program®. Heartfelt Connections focuses on each person’s unique abilities and helps residents maintain a sense of purpose, satisfaction, dignity, and quality of life.
We encourage you to learn more about the many ways we support the unique needs of residents with multiple therapy programs including sensory therapy for people with dementia. Please contact us to learn more or schedule a personal tour.