Two medical practices that care for dementia-stricken individuals in Europe have installed tunable LED lighting systems with the aim of resetting the circadian rhythms of their patients and creating a more serene, calming atmosphere.
The centers –– which are located in London, United Kingdom and Neuss, Germany –– used separate products to pursue the same initiative.
The systems use differing light intensities and frequencies to set healthy circadian rhythms for elderly patients, whose wellbeing depends on the consistency of such patterns.
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The human circadian system can be thought of as a master gatekeeper, or centrally located master cog in a complex interlocking system of genes, hormones, and neurotransmitters that orchestrate the functionality of our cells, most genes, and all biological processes, thus powering a totally integrated organism. In humans, the circadian system is designed as a biological anticipatory system comprising molecular networks charged with keeping a person attentive, sufficiently rested, and actively healthy by aligning and adapting the biology to the environment. It does this by readying the body and brain for the next process by using ambient light signals as a timing cue.
Today, man has an advanced circadian system that depends on environmental ambient cues, such as the Earth's 24-hour photoperiods, to realign the innate 24.2-hour (approximate) circadian rhythm and initiate the process of sleep so the act of sleep can happen at night. Combined, the circadian rhythm, inverse to the sleep/wake cycles, drives all of our physiological and metabolic processes, biological functions, neuroendocrine activity, and genetic expression to keep us healthy and active. Important life-sustaining functions under circadian system influence include heart rate, blood pressure, immune system function, wound healing, hunger, satiation, and even urine output. With all of this at stake, one can only begin to realize the grave concern a desynchronized circadian system would pose; and, as scientific discovery is now reinforcing, electric light has the potential to do this with the flip of a switch.
Dementia patients, in particular, have a hard time processing light, upsetting their day-night rhythm and resulting in poor sleep habits.
The dementia centers warm the color temperature later in the day. They also lower brightness and melanopic light levels, or non-visual light frequencies. Phasing down melanopic levels reduces blue frequencies, which stimulate and can disrupt sleep. This allows for the natural release of melatonin, aiding patient sleep patterns by “creating what the body perceives as biological darkness.”
On the contrary, upping melanopic levels during the day helps set a positive mid-day rhythm, which can be hard to achieve for patients who spend the majority of their day under artificial lighting. Since hospitals require 24/7 lighting, the circadian rhythm disruption experienced by those being treated is maximized.
We've shared similar stories on this blog about lighting being used for good. It's always encouraging to see innovation providing human-level value –– beyond just the bottom line.