Patients are recovering faster on this hospital ward – thanks to dynamic lighting

Patients at the new geriatric ward at this hospital in Germany’s Sauerland region are recovering faster and feeling calmer, thanks to a more ‘natural’ lighting scheme, which changes throughout the day.

The lights at the Maria-Hilf Hospital automatically replicate the characteristics of sunlight, adjusting in colour and intensity according to the time of the day, following the circadian rhythms (body clocks) of patients and staff. ‘We have had a very positive experience with this,’ says Birgit Hennemann, head nurse on the geriatric ward.

German manufacturer Trilux installed the circadian lighting in the patients’ rooms and corridors, and all the LED luminaires are controlled by a central light management system.

Not only does the lighting prevent patients’ day/night rhythm from getting out of sync, it’s also designed with the particular needs of elderly people in mind.

This means illuminance levels are high – a 75-year-old, for example, needs light that is 20 times brighter than someone in their early 20s. On top of this, a lot of attention is required in the planning stage to avoid reflections or pronounced light/dark contrasts, which can increase the risk of falls and accidents.

All this has an immediate impact on the wellbeing of the patients. More light reduces feelings of uncertainty, improves balance, and supports a more relaxed state of mind. Hennemann says that on her ward, ‘the patients feel better faster, and are calmer’.
In the development of the circadian lighting solutions, Trilux’s engineers rely on the latest insights from sleep research,showing that the human body clock responds to different portions of blue and red in the light. Depending on the composition of the light, the hormones melatonin and cortisol are generated, and they have a significant impact on the wake and sleep phases and thereby control performance and wellbeing.

Lighting is not the only thing that plays an important role in the new geriatric ward – the overall approach is a holistic one. As head physician Dr Heinrich Kerkhoff says: ‘High-tech medicine alone rarely brings an older person back to health.’ Individual treatment plans are developed for each patient. Physiotherapists, psychologists, speech therapists, social services, and nutritional consultants work hand in hand.

The interior design of the department, by Cologne-based 100% Interior, includes an interplay of colours in the furnishings, rather than the sterile atmosphere people usually expect on a hospital ward.

The aim is to get patients moving again a few days after surgery, counteract muscle loss and prevent the need for extra care.

Comments 5

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If actually installed as described, then this could be a very dangerous illumination paradigm. As people get older the lens of the eye becomes more yellow letting in less blue light. Thus this manufacturer is compensating by exposing occupants to 20-fold brighter light (stated in the article). However, the elderly have a greatly reduced ability to compensate for free radical damage and oxidative effects of photons striking the tissues inside the eye. One idea is that the reason the lens turns yellow is to protect the eye from the potentially damaging effects of the blue wavelengths. This is made worse by the fact they they are using LEDs, which already have a large proportion of blue light emissions. So I would predict that in this case of forced exposure to high light levels, they are going to see a pattern of accelerated eye damage in the residents. Another example of well-intentioned but ill-informed lighting.

Please provide further information as to the title claim on faster recovery times. A scientific explanation is desired.

@James so the growing body of evidence is not sufficient? Or is the "benefits humanity" link that is yet to be unproven?

Commendations should go to all involved in the design and implementation of "circadian" lighting systems such as this. However, our lighting industry has failed in the past, and continues to fail today, in the publishing of evidence-based, irrefutable and repeatable data in support of the notion that well-designed lighting benefits humanity. I await the day!

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