Taking Care of Your Folks During Their Golden Years

Sunshine And Seniors: How Natural Light Can Improve Quality Of Life For Assisted Living Residents

Exposure to natural sunlight can provide numerous benefits to residents of assisted living facilities. This article explains some of these benefits, as well as tips for how to incorporate sun exposure in a nursing home environment.

Mood Improvements

Depression and other mood disorders are common in assisted living populations. Because of their need for care, many elderly patients spend a significant portion of their time indoors under artificial lighting conditions. Light therapy has been shown to offer mood-related benefits to individuals that live in areas with extended winter seasons or experience consistent cloud cover. Both these conditions can trigger seasonal affective disorder. Similarly, consistent exposure to full-spectrum light can help improve the mental health of residents living in nursing homes. In fact, studies suggest that exposure to natural light for even 30 minutes can help improve mental health by potentially altering the production of key chemicals such as serotonin.

Vitamin D Benefits

Vitamin D deficiencies are considered common among assisted living populations. Inadequate Vitamin D production correlates to a number of negative health conditions, including increased risk of osteoporosis, more frequent falls, and a greater number of fractures. While supplements can help, so can sunshine. Human skin is generally capable of producing more than adequate amounts of this important compound when it is exposed to direct sunlight.

Better Sleep

Another common problem reported by residents at assisted living facilities is difficulty sleeping. Spending daytime hours in natural sunshine helps restore natural circadian rhythms that regulate the body's internal clock, improving sleep.

Improve Dementia Symptoms

Perhaps most stunning, exposure to light can actually help mitigate dementia symptoms. A recent study suggests that lighting adjustments improved the cognitive abilities, mood, and physical functionality of dementia patients in ways comparable to common medications.

How To Increase Sunshine Exposure 

Incorporating more natural light in residents' routines doesn't have to be difficult. Because morning sunlight can have an especially strong impact, encourage elderly individuals to seek out light first thing in the morning. This can be accomplished through early group walks, allowing residents to eat breakfast outside, or simply making a habit of opening shades and blinds first thing. Through out the day continue to find opportunities to experience natural light such as setting up areas to mingle with visitors outside, inviting residents to help in an on-site community garden, or setting up reading chairs near large windows.

Special Precautions for Elderly Populations

Although exposure to sunlight offers significant advantages to elderly populations, it also presents certain risks. Aging skin can be delicate and may burn easily, so it's important to use sunscreen if someone will be in the sun for more than a few minutes. Certain medications commonly taken by older patients may also react to sun exposure.

Encouraging residents of assisted living facilities to experience natural light on a daily basis is a simple thing that can greatly improve quality of life for aging individuals. Consider these benefits and tips when making natural light a priority for individuals receiving nursing home care.