Older adults in long-term care facilities often spend their days and nights in dimly-lit rooms with minimal time spent outdoors. The constant, unvarying dim light found in many long-term care facilities means that older adults are not experiencing the robust daily patterns of light and dark that synchronize the body’s circadian clock to local sunrise and sunset. Disruption of this 24-hour rhythm of light and dark affects every one of our biological systems from DNA repair in single cells to melatonin production by the pineal gland, to electrical activity in the brain. Circadian disruption is most obviously linked with disruption of the sleep-wake cycle—feeling sleepy during the day and experiencing sleep problems such as insomnia at night—but is also linked with increased risk for diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Sleep problems are all too common among older adults, especially those in long-term care facilities, yet sleep could not be more important to their overall health and wellbeing. In fact recent research has shown that poor sleep may directly impact the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and conversely, healthy sleep may prevent or slow progression of the disease.
A team of researchers at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have created a portfolio of lighting patterns, available via interactive website, to help lighting and healthcare professionals to select and place luminaires to support circadian health and wellbeing, while supporting the vision and orientation needs of older adults. The patterns are based upon the 24-hour lighting scheme for older adults proposed by LRC Professor Mariana Figueiro in 2008, which recommends cycled electric lighting with cool, high light levels for high circadian stimulation during the daytime, and warm, low light levels for reduced circadian stimulation in the evening, along with good lighting for visibility, and nightlights to provide horizontal/vertical cues to improve postural control and stability.
“Older adults in these dimly-lit facilities typically do not experience the robust light-dark pattern necessary to keep their circadian systems entrained to a regular sleep-wake cycle,” said Figueiro. “Our new website shows examples of how long-term care facilities can utilize lighting to support the health and wellbeing of their residents.”
The new website, Lighting Patterns for Healthy Buildings, is designed in the spirit of traditional architectural pattern books, presenting model designs for typical rooms that can be adapted to specific buildings and styles. The second phase of the project will showcase healthy lighting for children and adolescents in schools.
Like older adults in long-term care facilities, many of our nation’s children are spending their days in dimly-lit classrooms, not receiving the robust circadian stimulus necessary for circadian entrainment, leading to decrements in sleep and mood, reduced performance in school, and increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
The project was led by LRC researchers Mariana Figueiro, Kassandra Gonzales, and Russ Leslie, and was sponsored by the Light & Health Alliance: Acuity Brands, Cree, GE Lighting, Ketra, OSRAM Sylvania, Philips Lighting, Sharp, and USAI Lighting.
“The simple lighting solutions we recommend can have a profound impact on health and wellbeing,” said Leslie.
About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC has been pioneering research in energy and the environment, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, and solid-state lighting for more than 25 years.
In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today the LRC offers both a M.S. in lighting as well as a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. Internationally recognized as the preeminent source for objective information on all aspects of lighting technology and application, LRC researchers conduct independent, third-party testing of lighting products in the LRC's state of the art photometric laboratories, the only university lighting laboratories accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP Lab Code: 200480-0). LRC researchers are continuously working to develop new and better ways to measure the value of light and lighting systems, such as the effect of light on human health, and the effect of light on plant physiology.
The LRC believes that by accurately matching the lighting technology and application to the needs of the end user, it is possible to design lighting that benefits both society and the environment.
About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation's oldest technological university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, and the media arts and technology. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.