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Changing lights in nursing homes could prevent falls and has other benefits, study finds

nursing home lights
Posted at 3:21 PM, Oct 31, 2022

Study shows swapping fluorescent bulbs with LED color-changing lights inside long-term care facilities could reduce resident falls by 43%

Falls are the leading cause of deadly and non-deadly injuries among seniors in the US, according to the CDC. It’s estimated that falls cost well over $50 billion a year in medical expenses.

Some medications, lack of sleep, and cluttered environments are just a few things can increase fall risk for elderly people. However, another source that probably doesn’t get as much attention is light.

The sun’s cycle has a powerful effect on the body’s internal clock. Light tells the body to be awake and alert. Darkness triggers sleepiness. But not everyone is on mother nature’s schedule.

“They have day and night every 90 minutes on the International Space Station. You can’t sleep and wake every 90 minutes, so they had to turn it into a 24-hour day and they did it with light,” pointed out Rodney Heller with the Midwest Lighting Institute.

That scenario gave Heller the idea of testing a lighting change inside long-term care facilities since residents spend a lot of time indoors and that can throw their body clocks off.

Inside a couple of Wisconsin nursing homes, they switched out traditional fluorescent bulbs for LED lights that change colors between blue and yellow.

“We start out first thing in the morning with a blue type color, and then, about 10 or 10:30, we start ramping up the intensity. We make it brighter,” Heller explained. “Then, about 2 or 2:30, we start bringing it back down because that’s what the normal day does. Then, when residents go to dinner, we change the color from a blueish to a yellowish kind of color and then we start bringing that down from like 6 until 10 at night.”

Over the course of two years, experts with Brigham and Women’s Hospital documented in a peer-reviewed study that the light change led to a 43% reduction in falls.

Heller says there was also a 40% drop in sundowners. Sundowners is a term related to incidents with residents that may have a difficult time going to bed at traditional times.

Additionally, residents’ moods improved and fewer anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications were given out in facilities after the LED lighting change, reported Heller.

The Midwest Lightning Institute is studying other benefits to making lighting changes in different environments.

They’ve found other benefits like reductions in harmful medical errors by hospital staff. Heller says similar modifications can be made at home by installing color changing lights that include blue hues on a timer.

At the very least, he recommends everyone make the lighting color change on their cell phones that gets rid of blue light at night. It is available under settings in most model phones.

You can learn more and read about the research here.