Birmingham, Ala. (September 25, 2014) – When we think of nursing homes, images of cold, institutional spaces typically come to mind. For many years nursing-home design was based more on hospital settings than what the space actually is: a home. By definition, the occupants are residents and not patients. The majority will live the rest of their lives in that facility, with limited access to the outside. Bringing in plenty of natural light is important to their well-being, and it has a direct impact on their physical and psychological health.

In addition to providing warm, pleasing illumination, natural light can help alleviate certain common ailments experienced by the elderly. High contrast and glare from artificial lights adversely affect visual cues and can create disorientation. Sleep disorders and lack of a sense of time are other common problems, as nursing home residents rarely have the opportunity to go outside. Natural lighting helps us to know the time of day and sets our circadian rhythms. Studies conducted at UAB have even found a correlation between natural lighting and cognitive impairment in individuals suffering from depression- another common ailment of the elderly. In addition to its effects on patient health, natural lighting can reduce the need for electrical lighting and lower a building’s operating expenses, leaving more room in budgets to benefit residents’ experiences.

State guidelines require a minimum window size (based on room area), but these requirements only apply to bedrooms, and don’t mandate the implementation of the important lighting concepts outlined above; this is the responsibility of the architect. The incorporation of thoughtful lighting concepts by the architect greatly enhances the quality of life for nursing home residents.

-Lee Winnige