Can light improve the lives of dementia patients? Researchers at the St. Augustinus Memory-Center in Neuss, Germany, are using OSRAM technologies to find out.

Andreas Pickelein points the lux meter into the clear midday sky over Neuss. It measures more than 100,000 lux. From the very beginning of human life, the natural intensity of light has helped maintain our circadian rhythms. Today, however, we spend most of our time inside where rooms are only illuminated with about 500 lux. This can have an impact on our day-night rhythm, an issue Pickelein, an expert for human-centric lighting at OSRAM, knows quite well. Today he’s meeting with Prof. Ulrich Sprick, chief physician at St. Augustinus Group’s Memory-Center, to discuss the implications of precisely this for people suffering from dementia.

Everything in the state-of-the-art assisted-living center for people with dementia is set up to assist the residents in their daily lives and to make living with their illness easier. “Light plays a crucial role,” says the chief physician, who is researching the impact of light on dementia patients. “There’s immense interest in researching light here in Europe as well as in America and Asia. Scientific studies on the effects of light on individuals with dementia are, however, rare.”

OSRAM expert Andreas Pickelein (on the right) talks to Prof. Ulrich Sprick, chief physician at St. Augustinus Memory-Center.

Daylight in the daytime clinic

For his pilot study, Sprick has had two special OSRAM lighting systems installed. These systems reflect the principles of human-centric lighting, whose focal point is the biological effect of light. The systems include a patient room that has been equipped with special luminaires and digital lighting control systems from OSRAM. A second installation comprises a 10-square- meter illuminated ceiling located in the daytime clinic’s common room, where residents spend most of their day.

“Both systems emulate the dynamic progression of daylight in terms of light color and illumination levels,” Sprick explains. “After all, the best light for humans is daylight.” He also says that a three-hour dose of light in fresh air around midday – regardless of whether the sun is shining or not – is optimal for a sound day-night rhythm. 

In the daily routine of the center, however, it’s not feasible to have all patients spend three hours outside getting fresh air. “This is why we’re bringing artificial daylight into the building,” the chief physician states. Automatic light sequences that start early in the morning with warm-white lighting, then shift to cold blue-white lighting at midday, and finish in the evening with warm-white lighting again, were jointly developed by Sprick and Pickelein. To adjust the lighting options to reflect seasonal changes, they also programmed variations such as a “summer day” and a “winter day.” The programming also takes into consideration the shifts in time for the sunrise and sunset each day.

Scientific research was conducted over the course of several months to determine the effects of the various lighting options on residents. Sprick’s team carried out their work by comparing, among other factors, the lighting preferences of dementia patients with healthy individuals in a comparison group. The results showed that patients with dementia prefer cold-white lighting with about 6,200 kelvin – on average more than 400 kelvin colder than the comparison group. And they preferred a significantly higher brightness level than the recommended standard. Overall, the observations made during the research found strong satisfaction and acceptance among residents and the nursing staff.


Increased quality of life

For Sprick, these initial findings provide a reason to more closely examine the impact of light on people suffering from dementia. In the next research phase, he wants to measure exactly how the artificial light influences the residents’ day-night rhythms and, in particular, the quality of their sleep. To carry this out, the technology needs to be installed on a larger scale. “The older we get the less we sleep, and the greater the interruptions to our sleep,” Sprick says. “Using the right dose of light, we could slowly bring residents back to a normal circadian rhythm,” he explains, adding that this would improve patients’ quality of life by creating more peace and quiet and structure in the day. Desirable side effects: It would be possible to decrease the use of medications such as sleeping pills and, as a result, lower costs. This would give the clinic staff more opportunities to support residents.

Pickelein, the OSRAM expert, also thinks the research holds a lot of promise, saying: “It provides us with additional findings that we can use for future projects.” He also thinks that, down the road, it would be possible to provide personal lighting settings to individuals. “We all react differently to light, and research projects like the one in Neuss help us expand our knowledge in this area,” Pickelein states. “Our goal is to provide personal lighting that optimally supports each individual in his or her daily life.”