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43 Throwing light on dementia design

Oliver Buchan, head of innovation at Luxonic, argues that, while the lit environment is often an underestimated consideration when creating a dementia-friendly building, relatively simple lighting solutions can be very effective

‘Suggested illumination levels are often two to four times greater for the elderly compared to a 20-year-old’

© Luxonic

good lighting addresses so much more. In a dementia-friendly setting, the lit environment has the


ability to reduce disorientation, confusion and falls by revealing forms within the space. It can also increase social interactions, optimism, attention span and independence by delivering a stimulating visual field. These are all aspects that are highly desirable not only for

those living with dementia, but also for the people that care for them. And yet, the lit environment is often an underestimated consideration when architects map out facilities used for dementia care.

Lighting design

The ageing process alone has a major impact on the eye, with suggested illumination levels are often two to four times greater for the elderly compared to a 20-year-old. Increased light levels normally lead to better perception of

detail, not just for functional tasks such as reading but also as a way of encouraging interactions when playing card games or

hen designing a facility with dementia sufferers in mind it’s very easy to talk exclusively about the provision of light in terms of practicalities – but

helping with chores, for example. Such pools of light can be easily generated with strategically located downlighters or simple table lamps. However, the distribution of light within a space is critical

to its success. Glare from poorly located directional luminaires or reflections from specular surfaces, significantly reduces the ability to interpret the surrounding scene. At the same time a uniformly diffused illumination will struggle to generate the levels of contrast necessary to reveal three dimensional forms such as furniture. Glare in this context is not about unified glare ratings but inappropriate directionality and luminance.

Daylight and stimulation

Another area of active research preoccupying lighting designers at the moment is the way light can affect the body clock. A lot remains undiscovered, but it is indisputable that starting the day with high – but not oppressive – light levels and subsequently maintaining the normal pattern of day and night is very important in aligning circadian rhythms. This regulation of the body clock can have a major influence on quality of sleep, appetite, bowel functions and mood – all aspects of life that can be problematic for those living with dementia. Continued overleaf...

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