How Lighting Can Influence Resident Health and Wellness in Senior Care Settings

Lighting plays an important role in a building’s architecture, as it can enhance a space, create an aesthetic, and draw attention to different elements. But in senior care settings, lighting plays an even bigger role. When used strategically, lighting can influence resident health and wellness, as well as safety.

The Role of Lighting in Senior Care Facility Design


Chris Ebert, principal at Ankrom Moisan Architects, AIA, NCARB

Chris Ebert, principal at Ankrom Moisan Architects, AIA, NCARB, explains that as we age, the way our eyes work changes. “When designing for seniors, designers and architects must account for the effects of aging on how a person perceives color, light intensity, the negative effects of glare, and other health-related concerns, all of which can be addressed with the right design,” says Ebert. “Whether it is natural sunlight or specialty indoor lighting, high-quality lighting is proven to have a positive impact on one’s health and wellness. For example, the National Library of Medicine cites that blue lighting can accelerate post-stress relaxation.”

How Lighting Can Address Health Concerns

Lighting plays an important role in creating an environment that is safe for residents. “Seniors generally benefit from higher lighting levels, more uniformity, and less glare. Together, these create a safer environment than poorly lit homes, reducing the risk of falls, and minimizing the difficulty of reading medicine labels,” explains Ebert.

Since seniors are more sensitive to glare than younger individuals, designers can reduce that glare with window shades, light shields, and finishes that aren’t overly reflective. “It is also important to provide uniform lighting through careful selection and placement of indirect and shielded direct lighting,” he says.

Circadian lighting can also help improve sleep and reduce agitation and depression. This kind of lighting changes color throughout the day, mimicking the way that sunlight changes during the day. Ebert notes that circadian lighting has also been shown to be especially helpful for seniors with memory issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

Older and outdated lighting systems may lack the versatility needed to fully take advantage of lighting to support residents. Ebert notes that most legacy systems lack the ability to adjust lighting levels and color to reflect the types of activities conducted in the space. “For example, many facilities may use a space for aerobics in the morning and dining in the evening; activities that benefit from very different lighting strategies,” says Ebert. “Often, older systems rely heavily on fluorescent lighting which tends to be very white light and clinical, which is great in an office or exercise room but may be uncomfortable in a living or dining room. Additionally, florescent lighting is very difficult to dim or change color, again making it difficult to fine-tune the lighting.”

Best Practices When Designing Lighting for Senior Care Facilities

When designing a senior care facility, Ebert emphasizes the importance of natural light to support resident health and wellbeing. He notes that it’s important to ensure that common areas, living areas, and staff work areas have ample access to natural light. “When practical, designers should have windows on 2 or 3 sides of a room,” he says. “The numerous health benefits of access to natural daylight are undeniable. Science has shown that natural light makes us sharper and happier during the day, provides us with better sleep at night, and helps us recover faster when we get sick. For memory care patients, circadian lighting helps to reinforce the body’s natural rhythms and can help reduce the evening agitation known as sundowning.”

But integrating natural light into a facility also needs to be done strategically. “Bringing daylight indoors in a thoughtful way requires a delicate balance of interdependent variables,” says Ebert. “Simply adding more windows to a building is not a fix-all solution. To properly daylight indoor spaces, designers must balance lighting control, glazing requirements, indoor climate controls, solar heat gain, external views, nighttime darkness, and many other factors.”

He explains that the use of LED lighting can also enhance a senior care space. In addition to energy savings, LED offers other advantages. “LED strip lighting allows for simple installations of very uniform light especially when used indirectly such as cove lights in a ceiling,” Ebert says. “They are also very easy to dim and change color so light levels can be fine-tuned. LED fixtures can come in a wider variety of sizes and styles than traditional fixtures allowing more targeted placement options.”

Strategies to Update a Senior Care Facility’s Lighting

According to Ebert, when updating the lighting of an existing facility, it’s important for designers to understand how the spaces are being used, as well as by who and when. “Is the space a single purpose or does it have different functions throughout the day or week? Will it be used at night? What activities are critical for space, and which are secondary?” he poses.

“Another important consideration is how the lighting will be controlled and by who? Does it need to be automated with a timer, an occupancy sensor, or a light sensor? Do residents need to have control or just staff? These and similar questions will be explored during the design process but have initial thoughts and goals around giving designers a head start,” explains Ebert.

He encourages facilities to engage an architect or interior designer experienced in senior living early on in the redesign process. “These professionals are well equipped to oversee the technical requirements and goals of lighting design, while at the same time making sure that those technical aspects are in service to residents, staff, and the way the lighting interacts with all of the other building functions.”

Updating and redesigning lighting can have a significant impact on resident health and safety, and projects don’t necessarily have to be major renovations, notes Ebert. “Lighting projects can be as simple as replacing fixtures in existing locations, all the way up to relocating, rewiring, and installing complex lighting control systems.”

Topics: Design , Facility management , Featured Articles , Operations , Risk Management