I have been reading several articles about the importance of bright light (especially natural light or light with clear blue tones) in the morning to begin our day and aid in serotonin production. Serotonin is our feel good hormone that helps us to feel energized. The importance of this light in the morning is that it can help to reset our internal time clock as well as be a great natural boost of energy. This morning I was reading a blog that I follow, Alzheimer's Reading Room, the author found that when caring for his mother the day went better with several morning rituals. One of those being: "I led her to the kitchen and sat her at the table where she could get some bright light". Doing this he found her day went better and she seemed more content and happier. I love it when experience supports science and science supports experience!
Lighting And Human Health
Published: December 2015
Light doesn’t only serve as the basis of vision. It can influence behavior and how people feel. Further, light plays an important role in human health. As researchers gain insight into the relationship between light and health, the lighting industry is beginning to consider health effects in product and lighting design best practices.
Heart of the issue
At the core of one of light’s biggest effects on human health is its nonvisual effect on the body’s circadian system. The circadian system produces and regulates bodily functions based on 24-hour cycles, called circadian rhythms. Examples of circadian rhythms include sleep-wake cycles, core body temperature changes, and the release timing of hormones, such as melatonin. Disruption to circadian rhythms can lead to poor nighttime sleep and increased daytime napping as well as a greater risk of depression, obesity, diabetes and seasonal affective disorder. To read the full article:
I have just read an article by Jack Carman, on “From Inside Out: Gardens Meet Unmet Needs”, in this article he talks about the value of gardens to improve the quality of life for elders, in that it helps with appetite, sleep, Vitamin D absorption, balance, circadian rhythm and more health benefits.
I appreciate this article as I love to garden, the sense of contentment and joy I receive from being out side and having my hands in the dirt and seeing plants grow is hard to replicate in any other experience. I also enjoy the fresh air, the sound of birds and the warmth of the sun. So this is no surprise to me that gardening can enhance and improve the lives of all of us as we age.
The majority of these benefits come from the experience of being outside and it is free. Even on a cloudy day there is light that our eyes take in as well as is absorbed through any exposed skin. These outdoor light levels are rarely available indoors in either a home or care community.
Quality of life is improved as exposure to the outdoors increases, unfortunately not everyone has access, for seniors who are dealing with mobility issues, loss of vision, or are living in a home in which accessibility to the outside is difficult. Senios may live in a care community that doesn’t offer outside areas or the assistance to enjoy ones that are present. These conditions can limit the ability to move inside and out. This is something that must be considered and once the importance of being outside is recognized hopefully obstacles can be addressed.
Being outside for as little as 20 minutes a day can have a direct impact on some of the issues that can accompany the aging process, falls and broken bones, loss of appetite. Having access to the natural light cycle can help with sleep, a staggering 80% of senior’s report problems with their sleep patterns. Not only do gardens have the ability to meet unmet needs, sitting outside can help with some of these needs as well.
More than 90% of the population age 65 and over say that they want to stay in their homes as they age. Statistics are showing that this is becoming more and more common and is referred to as, “Aging in Place”. Another statistic is that the home you are living in at 60 is most likely the one you will stay in. When you consider that most of the homes people are living in were built in the 50's, 60’s and 70’s with very little consideration for someone to successfully age in this space. It is understandable that there can be numerous things to look at to determine how a home can meet the current needs and those in the future. The impact of lighting as we age, in my opinion is not given enough consideration.
Many homes that people are living in have low ceilings and few windows which can create even darker inside spaces. Heavy draperies, overgrown shrubbery, dirty windows all decrease the natural light that can come into a home. Isolation, depression, loss of appetite, sleep problems, falls, lack of Vitamin D synthesis, broken bones, sleep issues, safety and so many more issues can be influenced by lack of appropriate lighting.
Light cords and extension cords are a fall risk, as well as the task of changing out a light bulb. Inadequate lighting for tasks in the kitchen and in bathrooms can cause injuries. Lack of contrast on steps may result in missed steps. Inadequate or poorly aimed exterior lighting can result in shadows and the inability to clearly see someone at the door. There are also many activities that people look forward to enjoying as they age, crafts, puzzles, reading, sewing, the list goes on. These all require appropriate lighting to be enjoyed.
I hope that the importance of adequate and appropriate lighting will be considered as important as other home modifications that are made to ensure successful Aging in Place.
As we age our eyes age and change as well. I first noticed a change in my vision when I could no longer see the hole in a needle to thread it. I am now learning that this and other vision differences are a natural part of aging.
The pupil doesn’t adapt as quickly to changes in lighting and there is a decrease in the amount of light that reaches the retina. This can cause falls as eyes don’t adjust to changes in light levels as we transition from room to room or to and from the outdoors. This can also cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm resulting in sleep disturbances. Aging eyes also experience a loss of contrast sensitivity and depth perception which can affect many areas of our lives. From how we move through rooms to the ability to eat when the food is light colored and plates are in the same color hues.
“At age 60 our eyes require 3 times as much light as they did at 20 and 2 times as much as when we were 30. Most of the lighting guidelines where written with the 30 year old user in mind.” Paul Eusterbrock, President of Holkotter International.
Eye diseases are also more prevalent in older adults: cataracts- loss of clarity, glaucoma-loss of peripheral vision, macular degeneration- loss of center vision and diabetic retinopathy. Lighting can either increase or decrease these symptoms, the individuals sensitivities and needs need to be assessed and considered.
Lighting in the environment can be critical for health, safety and the ability to live independent lives for all of us as we experience aging eyes or are dealing with an eye disease.
Even as a NAILD certified Lighting Specialist 1, lighting can be confusing. There are so many considerations to keep in mind when choosing the appropriate lighting for a room. This became evident when my husband and I were at a restaurant this week and I was introduced to the wife of someone my husband knew. When she found out we were in the lighting business she had a question for me. They are in the process of remodeling their kitchen and is wanting to create a light fixture out of old metal egg baskets. She was curious as to the best light source to use.
The pros and cons of the incandescent: this is what you might consider the typical light bulb. Using this bulb you have total bulb illumination, so some of the light will be going thru the basket and creating a shadow on the ceiling. If you want to use a shade inside the basket to prevent this you need to be aware that 90% of the energy in this light source is given off as heat, so it will need to be an appropriate material. This light source has the shortest life of the others and therefore you will need to get the ladder out to change this more often. A plus for this light source is that if you want to use a dimmer it will work well.
CFL’s or Compact Fluorescent Lights – these are the curly q's. This is my least favorite light source for use inside a home, as it has a warm up and cool down time, which means that when you turn them on they are not bright immediately and are not dark immediately when turned off. A major consideration for where you use this lamp. It also would cast shadows on the ceiling and does not dim successfully. This light source is best when it is left on for several hours at a time as frequent on and offs will shorten the life. This light source contains mercury so you need to be careful if it breaks as well as with the disposal of this lamp.
LED’s- this light source is changing almost daily. You can get this lamp with the diodes projected in the direction you are wanting so it won’t cast a shadow on the ceiling. In an exposed fixture you will want to consider the “look” of the light, they are now coming out with LED’s that resemble the A19 standard shape of the incandescent. LED’s may not dim successfully with a standard dimmer, and unlike the incandescent when dimmed the light “color” may not change to a warmer hue. The LED is a great source of light to be able to install and leave it, as it has a long life. The LED lamp likes a cooler environment, the light will be brighter and life longer, the life will be shortened substantially if used in an area with excessive heat.
These are just a few of the basic considerations, although important things to think about as you install new or replace existing lighting. Cost for most of us is also a consideration with LED’s being more of an upfront investment although they will save you on replacement costs as well as energy charges. I didn’t have a simple answer for her when she asked, hopefully I did give her some things to consider.
Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their lighting until you flip a switch and the light doesn’t go on. For many of us this is a nuisance although one that can be fixed with relative ease.
Now consider you are older, live independently, or have some mobility concerns and your hallway light doesn’t come on when you flip the switch. It is evening time and to be able to see to get to your bathroom and bedroom you need that light, which is burned out. The steps to change the light include, getting the step stool, having a replacement bulb on hand, climbing the step stool, being able to unscrew the burned out bulb, install the new one, climb back down the step stool and return it to the closet or garage. There are many points in this process that could be dangerous and be the cause of an injury.
If this bulb is a regular incandescent this is a process that will be repeated with frequency as this hallway light is used. What are the choices to limit the need for this change out? CFL’s – the curly q lights do have a longer life, although it is shortened with frequent on and offs, it does have a warm up time to reach its full light output, it also contains mercury so if it is broken in this process is a hazard requiring special clean up and disposal. The most important consideration for me when using a CFL is if this is a transition placement where I will want full light when I turn on this light- a hallway, stairway, bathroom, garage, front door are all places where I will want light immediately so not where I would use a CFL. LED’s are now becoming more economical to purchase, they are a major energy saver when compared to the incandescent and they have a life of 10-20 years. This is a choice that most likely will eliminate the need for a change of this light for as long you are living in this home.
If you have an older loved one or someone with mobility concerns who is living in their own home a switch in the lights that are essential for their safety to LED’s would be a very good investment in their safety and security.