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Aging hospital patients and lighting for safety

More than half of patients admitted to hospitals in the United States are over the age of 65, and many of them suffer from vision or hearing loss, loss of motor skills and/or cognitive loss.

All hospital patients are weakened by illness or injury, but older age augments problems with navigation, balance and glare. While it isn’t a magic elixir, careful lighting design can help make the hospital a safer, more comfortable place for seniors.

“We’re living longer thanks to advances in modern medicine,” said Rebecca Hadley, manager of Eaton’s SOURCE lighting education center. “That’s great news, but one byproduct is the proliferation of diseases of the eye that are common in older age, such as macular degeneration. With so many patients over the age of 65, lighting design in hospitals is more important than ever.”

Why do older people have different lighting needs?

Just like our muscular and skeletal systems, our eyes weaken with time. As seniors’ eye cells begin dying and they experience floaters and other problems as a result, they will require higher light levels than their children and grandchildren.

“Our eyes are not as efficient as we get older,” said Hadley. “On average, a 60-year-old needs three times the amount of light as a 20-year-old, and an 80-year-old needs six times the amount of light.”

While people of any age can experience vision problems or even blindness, there are many age-related diseases of the eye including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. Unfortunately, these problems are commonly experienced as a part of aging, so it is crucial that health care facilities account for them in their lighting designs.

What are particular lighting design considerations for aging patients in the hospital setting?

While older patients are likely to have vision problems, here are seven things that can make their hospital stay safer and more comfortable:

  1. When placing light sources, ensure they don’t produce glare – either directly or on a shiny floor. Indirect, ambient lighting can help reduce glare on counters, floors and signs. This will help the elderly read important signs and reduce their risk of falls.
  2. Incorporating daylight into senior environments is particularly beneficial; when designing artificial lighting, consider more “natural” lighting by emulating an activity room with exterior windows. Many hospital environments have lighting in the 4,100 to 5,000K range, but Hadley recommends a color temperature of 3,500K due to the fact that this population has a tendency to be cold.
  3. While exterior windows provide daylight, direct sunlight can create harmful glare and even visually troubling patterns on walls and floors, especially for people with cataracts and mild dementia. Make sure direct sunlight is filtered or shaded at certain times of the day to avoid harmful effects.
  4. Navigation can be difficult for seniors, particularly in a hospital setting. Incorporate lighting that reinforces correct pathways and doors.
  5. Consider illuminating handrails, bedrails and grab bars to make them dual-purpose and easy to identify and locate in the dark.
  6. Ensure you have a balanced plan for nighttime illumination. Seniors need to rest but must also be able to get to the bathroom without falling. A red or amber light-emitting diode (LED) nightlight provides illumination for safety without disturbing the sleep process (circadian rhythm).
  7. Track lighting that provides ideal light for a younger person may cause glare for an older person and should be considered carefully. Seniors have a fixed state of vision, and their pupils don’t dilate as easily when exposed to bright light.

How widely are these design considerations being adopted?

“If the designer or developer knows its audience well, these considerations are thankfully being adopted more widely across the board,” Hadley said. “The IES and AARP as well as nursing homes and assisted living facilities have studied them closely and have become vocal advocates for lighting design that promotes safety and comfort.”

The needs of seniors and their families in the hospital setting call for a comprehensive plan that cannot be accomplished overnight. But by incorporating smart lighting systems designed with patients in mind, hospitals and other patient care facilities will be well on their way to creating a safe, comfortable healing environment.


Source: Health Facilities Management Magazine