Professional Comment

Dynamic Lighting and Its Benefits to Dementia Patients

By Kate Turley, 1851 Royal Commission Industrial Fellow

The continued growth of the ageing population comes with a number of health-related pressures. One of the biggest challenges to address within this age bracket is a diagnosis of dementia.

Dementia is a disease with no cure and is prevalent in those over the age of 65. Typically, individuals with dementia will experience symptoms such as cognitive decline, memory loss, sundowning and agitated/restless behaviours. More often than not, their reduced brain functioning impacts their sleep-wake cycles, introducing a disruption to their body clocks and causing a mistiming of sleep with the typical day/night cycle.

Over time (and largely due to these symptoms), people living with a diagnosis of dementia may require additional care. Admittedly, this responsibility extends to the care workforce and has become somewhat overwhelming.

As part of my Industrial Fellowship with the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, I am investigating how dynamic lighting could be involved in the alleviation of these symptoms of dementia, with the aim of improving the quality of life for people living with dementia alongside those working within the care sector.

Dynamic lighting operates by changing in spectral content throughout the day in a similar manner to the sun’s daily cycle. Warmer colours at lower intensities are present in the early mornings and late evenings with cooler and higher intensity lighting present throughout the mid-morning and afternoons. It is known that introducing this type of lighting to a care home environment can help to realign the body clock with the daylight cycle and improve sleep, restlessness, agitation and mood.

The dynamic lighting device we have designed is also equipped with a sensor that can track the location of a resident, their rest-activity patterns and their sleep/wake cycles. This system then facilitates learning about an individual’s activities and tailoring the timing and duration of the dynamic lighting in accordance with this. Over time, our aim is to provide a user-centred dynamic lighting environment that will best alleviate their symptoms of dementia and improve their quality of life.

By association, improving these symptoms of dementia will relieve some of the strain placed on caregivers when caring for them. For example, a Target Product Profile was carried out in January 2022 by Alzheimer’s Research UK and found that an estimated 90% of cost increases in this sector are caused by higher rates of admission to care home environments for people living with dementia who are also experiencing agitation.

I am hopeful that the results of my research can be used to relieve some of these symptoms and benefit both resident and caregiver alike, so that the future of dementia care can become a lot more promising. Aside from the economic implications, the societal impact of improving the mood of people living with dementia is extremely significant, as they often self-report on how heavily their mood and sleep are felt to be interlinked.

In terms of the caregiver perspective, a 2019 report published online by Alzheimer’s Association states that 60% of caregivers for people living with dementia experience very high stress levels alongside 40% reporting clinical depression. Therefore the research we are conducting could provide substantial improvement to the wellbeing and quality of life for those living with and caring for people with dementia.