Circadian Lighting: improving the care home environment

I suspect that, for many of us, our idea of a care home – whether experienced or imagined – is of an over-heated lounge; TV always on, though no sound; kitchen smells; dead air; residents sitting silently around the walls, usually in the same seats as the last time you visited. If we’re really lucky, we might visit while the weekly bingo game is in progress. And should we choose to look just a little deeper, an over-stretched and under-staffed group of (mainly) women carers, all holding onto a semblance of order by their fingertips.  Heaven’s waiting room made flesh, and we offer up a plea to nobody in particular; “If I’m faced with this, please shoot me.”

The accepted model of the English care home is a safe place for those of us no longer capable of making our own way in the world. But while the emphasis may be on the word ‘safe, it rarely runs as far as ‘happy’ – or ‘engaged’ – or ‘content’. These are words that come from activity – mental, emotional, physical that the Care Home As Containment can’t provide. Or can it?

I got wind of an organisation in the Midlands who were doing things differently, and as lighting is a core component of that difference-making, I thought it was worthwhile a visit.

WCS Care is based in Kenilworth and has ten care homes for older people and people with dementia – as well as two for younger adults with physical disabilities –across the boskier parts of the region. A thirteenth home will be opening in Warwick at the end of this year. And it’s the prospect of what’s happening with the lighting there that got my attention. But first, a bit of background:

Drovers House, a care home in Rugby (maybe not quite so bosky) opened in 2013. WCS Care’s senior management team includes a Director of Innovation and Development, Ed Russell. Ed ‘s remit is to seek out technological developments that can be woven into the workings of the care home environment, with the primary focus of providing improvements to residents’ day-to-day experiences. Why? Because a happier, more fulfilled resident tends to be a healthier resident – and that’s what’s important to WCS Care.

Ed approached PhotonStar (of blessed memory) to discuss how Circadian-Rhythm Lighting (C-RL) could benefit the workings of the home. That led to C-RL being installed throughout the ‘public’ spaces of Drovers House – the reception, dining areas, meeting spaces, corridors and one of the households – as part of a trial. That decision, together with other wonderful initiatives (a care home with a bicycle path, anyone?), provided Ed and the WCS Care team with early data that it hopes will help demonstrate how their theory around happy = healthy has real benefits for staff and residents alike. And data plays a BIG part in Ed’s evidence-driven approach to deciding whether something works or not.

Oh – and before the more cynical among us start wondering about the financial standing of residents; around 50% of the current residents with WCS Care are supported financially by local authorities (so that put me in my place!).

Which brings us to WCS Care’s new development at Warwick called Woodside Care Village.

Circadian-Rhythm Lighting will be installed throughout the home, not only in the public spaces but in residents’ rooms, including the en-suite bathrooms. It’s my understanding that the circadian function of the system will be fully automatic; when a light is switched on it will operate at the colour temperature appertaining to that time of day. There is to be no manual over-ride of the colour tuning.

The baton passes to Trilux for this second-phase CR-L project. The company will be responsible for supplying almost all of the light fixtures, all apart from a clutch of domestic fittings, and the control system. The DALI system will provide the overarching strategy that determines colour temperature throughout the day, while still allowing residents to switch the lighting within their personal spaces.

Interestingly, the programme will be set to an equinoctial setting, basically, 12 hours of light, 12 hours of dark. This is explained as an augmented daylight that best suits a north European working day. We’ve often said that bio-dynamic lighting can only really function when we have 24-hour control of the environment; the care home is one of those places where that’s near to the truth.

The solstice mismatches won’t affect residents wanting to spend time outside. In the winter months, it’s more likely that residents will choose to go outside around the middle of the day, and in the summer, the added daylight hours will simply enhance the general wellness quotient. And the equinoctial programming will help to support the staff who are working a regular shift pattern.

On first hearing it feels counter-intuitive that a circadian pattern doesn’t actually run alongside what’s happening in nature. It has been pointed out to me that we rarely run alongside nature in our lives anyway – and running through the meadows fully in tune with the natural order is a bit of a dream for most of us. So I’ll stop doing that, then.

The WCS Care experience is another example of bio-dynamic lighting in the real world, bringing measurable benefits to everyone concerned. Roll on November, when The Light Review will be reporting back on the actualité of the new Warwick home.

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