The healing power of nature

It’s not just vitamin D

The health benefits of natural light and fresh air have long been known to the healthcare community. Far beyond just vitamin D production, multiple studies have shown that increased exposure to natural light and fresh air can also help accelerate the healing process, effectively kill bacteria and improve patient wellbeing. Yet many healthcare facilities are still not designed with light and ventilation in mind.

Design for better health

Dr Julie Christie, University of Edinburgh

The dim lighting and cramped conditions endemic in healthcare facilities adversely affect visual function, mood, perception, circadian rhythms and infection rates. Respiratory-related illnesses only, including Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cost the EU more than £71 billion each year.

In contrast, 46% more daylight has been shown to reduce the need for pain relief in patients by up to 21%. Greater access to daylight and ventilation also significantly shortens the average length of patient stays, consistently lowers mortality in critically ill patients and even decrease agitation in dementia patients

Circadian rhythms
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm.
Designing healthcare environments Ged Couser, Principal at BDP and President of Manchester Architects

Dementia and daylight

Decreasing patient agitation

A recent study has shown that as little as 2 hours of exposure to bright white light (>1,000 lux at the cornea) in the evening decreases nocturnal activity and the severity of evening agitation of people with dementia. In addition, when exposed to 2,500 lux for 2 hours in the morning, patient agitation is also significantly reduced.

Dementia is a growing issue

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, in the UK only, there are nearly 1 million people suffering from dementia. This number is anticipated to increase to beyond 2 million by 2051, with the annual cost to UK Department of Health almost trebling to over £50 billion.

It is also indicated that 40% of people aged over 65 in general hospitals will be living with dementia and most people living in care homes will probably have dementia or cognitive problems.

Daylight’s role in treating dementia

Dr Julie Christie, University of Edinburgh

Dr Julie Christie has published several works on ethical practice in research and resilience in the context of dementia. Her research has shown that a supportive understanding of the living conditions of dementia patients can help them adapt to their new surroundings and live better lives.

Something as simple as increased lighting, better access to daylight and direct sunlight, appropriate contrast of surfaces, and a 24-hour lighting cycle of light and dark can improve sleep, ease agitation and enhance general wellbeing.

About Dr Julie Christie
Julie has experience of working with people living with dementia as a nurse, social worker and social work manager; and has a PhD in the subject of resilience and dementia. She has worked across a range of settings, including integrated health and social care, residential, care home and hospital sites, and has extensive knowledge on co-production, assessment, risk enablement, self-directed support, and issues of support and protection.

Tree Top Village

Case Study

High levels of natural light and ventilation are hallmarks of Tree Top Village in Newcastle, a retirement village with an inspirational design achieved through the extensive use of skylights and a central four-storey atrium.

Skylights were mounted against a vertical wall, rather than a traditional skylight position, enabling them to be strategically positioned to maximise daylight in all areas of the building.

Built to accentuate a community feel, each apartment opens onto this well-lit, spacious atrium where residents and visitors are encouraged to actively engage and participate.


Read Case Study

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Many thanks to Dr Julie Christie and the attendees of Design a brighter future, Manchester, where we filmed and collected this material in spring 2018.