Exposure to natural light has been praised for its variety of health benefits, such as increasing productivity, boosting mood and producing vitamin D. In other words, the more natural light we can get, the happier and healthier we feel!
When it comes to those living with dementia, researchers have studied the impact of varying environmental factors, including light. What they learned was that light therapy for those living with dementia led to fewer sleep disruptions and a decrease in symptoms like anger or agitation.
At The Woodlands at Canterfield, our memory care program, Navigate, serves as a compass for your family’s journey through dementia. By embracing every residents’ needs and abilities, we deliver compassionate care and resources to help you every step of the way.
Below, we highlight the positive impact that natural light can have on those living with dementia.
Understanding Circadian Rhythms
Every person has a biological function that follows a 24-hour cycle and regulates the body through physical, mental and behavioral changes. These are known as our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms, which respond primarily to light and dark environments.
One of the most noted circadian rhythms is sleeping at night and being awake during the day. This natural shift alerts us when it’s time to wake up in the morning and causes our bodies to get sleepy as the day winds down.
However, changes to the brain caused by dementia can cause this circadian rhythm to be disrupted. This can lead to sleep disorders and behaviors like agitation, confusion or anxiety during the night, also known as sundowning.
Benefits of Light Therapy for Dementia
Light therapy consists of the subject sitting in front of a light box that provides a bright light (about 30 times brighter than the average fluorescent light) for a set amount of time every day in order to reap the benefits of natural light.
Some studies have suggested that light therapy for dementia can provide many benefits. For example, one study found positive and promising effects on restless sleep during the night by using light therapy, while other studies have found that light therapy can help to reset a person’s circadian rhythm, resulting in less daytime sleeping and more sleeping at night.
Benefits of Natural Therapy for Dementia
When a person living with dementia is exposed to more natural light, either from direct sunlight or through windows and skylights, it positively impacts mood and reduces symptoms of agitation and depression.
In addition, a lack of vitamin D deficiency can cause tiredness or feelings of depression. A “vitamin D deficiency may occur from a lack in the diet, poor absorption, or having a metabolic need for higher amounts… People who cannot tolerate or do not eat milk, eggs, and fish, such as those with a lactose intolerance or who follow a vegan diet, are at higher risk for a deficiency (hsph.harvard.edu).”
Fortunately, exposure to natural light helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which, in turn, helps the body absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus (critical for building bone) and can reduce cancer cell growth, help control infections and reduce inflammation.
Incorporating Light into Dementia Care
If someone you love is living with dementia and is experiencing sundowning or you’re searching for a way to regulate healthy sleep habits, implementing light therapy into their daily routine is a simple solution.
Be sure that common spaces or the places in their home where they spend the most time are illuminated with lamps, open windows, skylights or other forms of natural light. You can also set specific times throughout the day when your loved one can spend time outside, and implement other beneficial activities like gardening, going for a walk around the neighborhood, visiting a dog park, or having a special picnic with family and friends.
At The Woodlands at Canterfield, we deliver person-centered care that helps each resident lead a life of purpose, dignity and safety. We recognize the power of light therapy for dementia, which is why our Canterfield memory care living spaces feature a floor-to-ceiling windowed solarium and customized and programmable lighting to ensure improved sleep, alertness and mental clarity.
We invite you to schedule a tour and let our associates show you how Navigate Memory Care at The Woodlands at Canterfield can help your family find support and peace of mind.