5 easy ways to keep it light, and keep it bright!

Find out why getting the lighting right is really important for someone living with dementia. A well lit home doesn't only keep them safe, it can make them happier, too

Good to know

As you get older your eyes change and your eyesight deteriorates. This happens whether you’ve been wearing glasses all your life or not. The lens of the eye becomes more yellow, which makes it harder to see through. This also means that subtle differences in colour contrasts are harder to notice, and the eyes become slower at adjusting to changes in light levels.

For someone with dementia, this can mean altering the lighting in each room to make it easier for them to see. Here's your lighting check list:

1. Make sure you have enough lighting
2. Get rid of any dark, shadowy areas
3. Reduce glare
4. Consider different lamps and lightbulbs
5. Make use of natural light whenever possible

1. Make sure you have enough lighting

Why: It’s a good idea to ensure that while all rooms have lights, there is extra lighting in areas where it might be needed most.

- This is known as ‘task lighting’ and means putting an extra lamp or spotlight above a desk or near a favourite armchair so the person with dementia can see more clearly to do activities they enjoy.

- Take care to not make the lighting too harsh though, particularly lights that are directly above a bed. In this case, a flexible angle lamp might be a good idea.

2. Get rid of dark shadowy areas

Why: Make sure that the lighting in each room doesn’t cause shadows or pools of darkness. Older people generally find it more difficult to adapt to changing light conditions. Plus, for someone with dementia, dark areas can be frightening and make them feel wary or unwilling to walk into that area. This, in turn can cause unsteadiness and increase their risk of falling.

- Set up additional free-standing lamps if the ceiling or wall lighting isn’t enough for one room.

- You can also use plug-in night lights that are triggered by movement to provide extra lighting. They can be particularly useful for help finding a main ceiling light switch in the middle of the night.

3. Reduce glare 

Why: While you want to ensure that rooms are bright enough, you also need to make sure they’re not too bright. If a room gets lots of direct sunlight, the glare may be too much, causing discomfort.

- Fix net curtains or light coloured roller blinds to windows to help reduce the amount of strong sunlight coming through.

4. Take another look at lamps and lightbulbs

Why: There’s a multitude of different lights and lightbulbs available these days which might really improve your lighting without costing a lot of money.

- Look at the sort of lights you already have. How easy are they to turn on or off? Lamps that have a fiddly (and often stiff) switch that’s located underneath the shade could be difficult for an older person to turn on. Lamps that have large buttons on the floor which you can either slide or step on with your foot may be a lot easier.

- You can also get table lamps where you only need to touch the base to turn it on or off, rather than finding a specific switch.

Did you know? Beware energy saving lightbulbs. Although they're increasingly popular now, they can take up to three minutes to reach their full brightness, so may not be suitable for someone who can’t see well, or who gets confused when the room isn’t as bright as it should be straight away.

5. Make use of natural light

Why: It provides the best level of light and it's also a great way to boost mood and mental health. Exposure to natural light is also very important for regulating the body’s natural clock, or circadian rhythm.

- Light triggers the body to release a hormone called cortisol, which helps increase energy and wakefulness. When it gets dark, the body releases melatonin, which makes you feel sleepy. If someone with dementia is struggling with sleep, constantly napping during the day or waking through the night, it may be because these hormone levels and their body clock have become disrupted. Exposing them to natural light during the day – a gentle walk or activity outside – may help to reset it.

- Trying to maximise the amount of natural light that’s entering a room. Draw curtains wide open, keep the windows clean and ensure any plants and shrubs outside the window are cut back to let light in. If you can, place chairs or dining tables near to the windows to encourage activities and eating.

Good to know

* During winter months, exposure to natural light may be trickier to come by, which is where light boxes can come in handy. These simulate natural daylight using special bulbs and are used in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of seasonal depression.

* Studies have found that light box therapy can not only help to re-establish a normal circadian sleep pattern, which can reduce the issue of night time waking and day time napping, but also help to stop people with dementia feeling agitated.