James Tu

As the healthcare industry turns to value-based care models, and providers focus on health and wellness goals, incorporating “human-centric lighting (HCL)” in long-term care facilities can create therapeutic environments that increase the safety and well-being of residents and staff. HCL aims to enhance the biological safety, health and emotional well-being of people through an expanding list of advanced capabilities such as flicker-free, dimmable and color tunable or circadian lighting that are now possible through LED lighting and lighting control technologies.

Below are just some of the health benefits HCL can provide.

High-quality LED can lessen liability

Lighting impacts for long-term care facilities can be broken into two domains: visual and non-visual. The visual domain, where light is perceived through rods and cones, is concerned with improving occupants’ quality of life through increased levels of high-quality light, while the non-visual domain, which is received by cells called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGC), impacts human physiological and circadian performances.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma, often cause further reduced contrast sensitivity, inferior night vision, reduced depth perception, and an overall decrease in visual acuity. These impairments lead to diminished balance and ability to avoid obstacles, increasing the risk of falls — the leading cause of injuries for older Americans according to the National Council on Aging.

Improving light levels and light quality shows great promise in reducing these hazards. Installing quality LEDs with high color rendering index (CRI), increased lumen output, and minimal flicker levels would improve visual acuity for residents and staff alike. LEDs are particularly beneficial since their light output is the closest spectral match to sunlight, resulting in better color differentiation and color saturation, brighter whites and overall better color vision, according to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Circadian lighting helps control sleep

One of the most promising advancements in LED lighting in recent years surrounds the advent of circadian lighting. By altering the wavelength and intensity of the light, circadian lighting optimizes the body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates the timing and expression of many biological and behavior processes, chief among them the sleep-wake cycle. Cooler color temperatures that simulate the sun at its highest in the sky suppress melatonin and promote a natural alertness. The warmer color temperatures resemble the sun when it’s rising or setting, encouraging melatonin secretion and leading to calmer, more relaxed moods.

Circadian lighting is especially beneficial for older adults as evidenced by research published by MIT scientists in Cell indicating that the strength of circadian rhythms decline with age.  Additionally, circadian lighting is imperative for those whose environment may involve decreased natural light exposure and/or night shift work, which can be detrimental to sleep and often result in fragmented sleep cycles. Studies have shown insufficient sleep is linked to a broad array of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, all major psychiatric conditions and weight gain — most of which pose a greater risk to older adults.  

HCL delivers more than ‘mood lighting’

In fact, additional research has highlighted how circadian lighting may offer therapeutic benefits to those with mood disorders and dementia. Research published inThe American Journal of  Psychiatry concluded that bright light and dawn simulation treatments can be effective for depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A Department of Energy (DOE) study conducted by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on the impact of circadian LED lighting on residents at ACC Care Center in Sacramento, CA, also found that target behaviors such as yelling, agitation, and crying were reduced by an average of 41%. Residents in the study also consistently slept through the night since the installation.

Further, studies published in JAMA, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and Building and Environment have shown that circadian lighting can be an appropriate intervention for those with dementia and may improve cognitive and noncognitive symptoms.

Switching to HCL

The latest advances in LED lighting, such as Energy Focus’ EnFocus line, provide energy efficient, flicker-free, dimmable and color tunable lighting capabilities through a simple retrofit of lamps and wall switches, making upgrading to high quality HCL easy and cost effective to achieve. HCL is smart investment that can profoundly affect the bottom line in many ways – especially positively impacting the health and safety of residents and staff, while also reducing its energy costs and providing a compelling return on investment.

James Tu is chairman and chief executive officer of Energy Focus Inc., an industry-leading innovator of sustainable LED lighting technologies and solutions. James is an advocate for LED and human-centric lighting technologies that provide environmental, health and business (“triple-bottom-line”) benefits.