Can adding particular kinds of light really soothe nursing home residents with dementia and improve their sleep and eating patterns? Recently published research findings certainly shed some light on that theory.

Fourteen nursing home residents with dementia were part of a study to answer that very question. The lights were put in their rooms for a period of four weeks, during which researchers used standardized tools to track sleep quality and duration, depression and agitation. The investigators found that all significantly improved. Although subjective, the nursing staff also reported that the patients were eating better.

According to the principal author Mariana Figueiro, Ph.D., associate professor and Light and Health program director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, this is a simple, inexpensive, non-pharmacological treatment and the improvements in agitation and depression were very impressive.

The study used blue-white lights that were about 300 to 400 lux. According to government guidelines, this would be an appropriate light level for an office conference room. The lights had a color temperature of more than 9000 K—the range of a white LED bulb, according to information from Florida State University.

The light therapy works by acting on the body’s circadian responses (biological clock), the researchers stated.