I recently attended a Gerontology Conference where a keynote speaker from AARP spoke about changing the way we thinking of the our aging population. He showed the positive economic impact that Seniors have on the economy as a whole and specifically on Oregon's. It was a new way of considering the impact of our aging society. The longevity economy considered the impact of households headed by someone 50 and above. Consumer spending for this group was close to $60 Billion compared to households headed by someone under 50 at less than $40 Billion. People over 50 in 2013 were 36% of Oregon'spopulation. This economy supported jobs in health care, retail trade, accommodation and food services. People within this age group also contribute significantly to Oregon's workforce. 33% of Oregon's workforce is over 50, 17% of which are self employed entrepreneurs, and 40% work in professional occupations. This population is growing and will continue to have a major impact on our economy, in light of this study in a very positive way. To see more visit: AARP States Longevity Economy
Lately, I have spent time considering how light impacts our circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin. Melatonin is produced by various tissues in the body, although the major source is the pineal gland in the brain activated by darkness. Why is this so sensitive to light? How is it that even a small amount of blue light can disrupt this?
I am brought to the awareness that each of us on this planet had ancestors who were able to survive famines, disease and predators, if they had not we would not be here. In order to survive our ancestors had amazing genetic qualities to survive all that they faced and these they passed down to us in our genetic code.
So, what does this have to do with light and the saber tooth? When our ancestors experienced light it meant that the saber tooth or other predators also had light and for survival they had to be alert and awake. The production of melatonin and the drowsiness it brings could have meant their doom. Today, our pineal gland is not able to differentiate between the electric 24 hours a day of light we are able to surround ourselves with and the light that meant it is time to be awake and alert.
We need to figure out how to work with our light sources to support our biological needs and responses to light, as they won't be changing any time soon, so for our health and survival we must understand this and work to support our natural systems.
When I recently allowed a software upgrade on my iPhone I receive this message: "Night Shift When enabled, Night Shift uses your iOS device’s clock and geolocation to determine when it’s sunset in your location, then it automatically shifts the colors in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum and may even help you get a better night’s sleep." Apple understands the importance of not having blue light in the evening which inhibits melatonin production. I would add a bit more to this message if you are wanting a good night's sleep- don't use your phones or computers at least 1 hour before you are wanting to sleep. Not only will the blue light effect your sleep, the stimulation of your brain in using these devices can keep you awake.
It is spring time in the Pacific Northwest, which means along with gray days filled with rain showers we have a few days thrown in with beautiful sunshine. The kind of day that fills me with energy and optimism that Spring will be here. I am surprised by the response that I sometimes receive when I mention I am a light researcher, some people think that this is a topic that is of interest in the winter. That light is only of concern when we think of illumination or the the lack of it. We are surrounded everyday by a wonderful sea of light, this light impacts our productivity, our wellness, our emotional outlook, our sleep, our appetite, how we learn and so much more. I hope you don't wait until the dark days to consider the light that you are living in everyday.
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.