LuxLive explores how light can help to manage dementia

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK. Last year 61,000 died of the illness, making it leading cause of death in the UK.

Lighting has been shown to have a profound effect on people living with dementia. The illness does not only slowly erode the memory, but also changes how people perceive their surroundings. Today, lighting topologies are being used to help improve dementia patient’s spatial perception.

This year LuxLive is considering how lighting can change dementia patient’s lives for the better. We caught up with lighting dementia expert, David McNair, who will speak at LuxLive, to get an introduction to how light is being used to in the fight against dementia. 

McNair, who is a chartered lighting engineer with a wide experience of lighting for interior and exterior environments, has spent the last eleven years studying dementia environments with experts at the University of Stirling.

In addition, he has collaborated with researchers at Heriot-Watt University and is now a consultant to HammondCare, a charity specialising in dementia and aged care. He is also a past president of the Institution of Lighting Professionals.


Where do we go wrong when lighting environments for people with dementia?

David McNair, dementia expert, speaking at this year’s Health and Wellbeing Conference, organised by Lux.

Most people with dementia are quite old and the older eye needs a lot more light than the younger eye to function properly. Dementia environments need twice the amount of light that you would find in recommended guides for normal lighting environments.

Dementia patients also need to be exposed to the twenty-four hour cycle of light and dark as this has significant health benefits, primarily due to the effect light has on circadian rhythms, which are very important to human health.

How does the make-up of a dementia patient’s brain differ from that of a person who does not have the illness?

The brain of someone living with dementia is easily confused. Contrast and perception are both important factors that change when a person has dementia.

There has to be, for example, sufficient contrast between different surfaces when lighting a space for a dementia patient. For instance, a person with dementia could quite easily miss a junction of a wall and the floor because of insufficient contrast.

Dementia environments need twice the amount of light that you would find in recommended guides for normal lighting environments.

David McNair – HammondCare

Perception is also important. People with dementia are likely to fall if, on flat surfaces, there is a change in tonal contrast, for instance provided by a black strip joining a carpet and piece of wood, because people with dementia are highly likely to perceive that as a step when no step is there. This altering of perceptions is likely to lead to people with dementia thinking, for example, that a dark drain cover in the street is a hole.

Is daylighting important when developing a lighting scheme for dementia patients?

Daylight needs to be used wherever possible and this in conjunction with some exercise can be a great help. If patients are exposed to high levels of light in the day, there will also be less incidents of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

High levels of light in the day can also help reduce ‘sundowning’, which is a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Sundowning sees the confusion and agitation levels of dementia patients get worse in the late afternoon and evening due to changes in the body’s circadian rhythm.

  • David McNair will speak on Wednesday 23rd of November at 16:30 in Tech Theatre 2 on the subject: The science behind lighting and dementia. ‘Lighting has been shown to have a profound effect on people living with dementia, and new lighting topologies are being used to improve spatial perception and wellbeing in this group. Here dementia lighting expert and consultant at HammondCare David McNair explains what we know about how light affects people living with dementia, and how we can implement practical lighting schemes.’
  • LuxLive will take place in London on Wednesday 23 November and Thursday 24 November 2016. Registration is free and you can find  out more here.