Details on special lights to improve dementia care: A fish tale

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Tim Mullaney
Tim Mullaney

In the last week, quite a few McKnight's readers have asked me for more details about special lights that improve dementia symptoms, prompting me to dig deeper into this story. The big news flash: I've learned that PetSmart might be a better bet than Home Depot to get the right bulbs.

A quick recap: Lighting systems installed in the nursing home rooms of 14 people with dementia were linked with decreased agitation, better sleep quality and improved eating. The lights involved were 300 to 400 lux and had a color temperature of more than 9,000 K.

A few readers informed me that they could not find lights meeting these criteria. So I contacted the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which was behind the nursing home study.

The good news is that the investigators used available GE lighting — aquarium lights, to be precise, according to the very helpful Lynn Celmer, the academy's communications coordinator. Specifically, they used two GE 45851 F55BX/AR/FS fluorescent lamps and a GE 15079v2 SunSmart Digital Timer.

They installed the GE lamps and the timer into custom-built luminaires, which is less-good news for providers seeking to reproduce the researchers' lighting system. But you can take a look at what the luminaires looked like on the poster they presented at the annual SLEEP conference in Minneapolis. (Just click on the linked PDF at the top of this page.)

A larger study is needed to confirm the initial good results, the investigators noted. Perhaps a larger, successful study will lead to mass-produced lighting systems that are therapeutic for dementia.

In the meantime, it seems to me that enterprising long-term care providers have little to lose by experimenting with these types of lights. And if worse comes to worse, just put the lights in an aquarium — research shows these are good for dementia care too.

Tim Mullaney is McKnight's Senior Staff Writer. Follow him @TimMullaneyLTC.

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McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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