Shedding light on light exposure in elderly with intellectual disabilities

M. N. Böhmer*, M. J. Valstar, M. P.J. Aarts, P. J.E. Bindels, A. Oppewal, E. J.W. van Someren, D. A.M. Festen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: Light exposure affects mood and sleep regulation. Sleep problems and mood complaints are common in elderly with intellectual disabilities (ID) living in care facilities. Insufficient light exposure is hypothesised to contribute to the high prevalence of these problems. The current study is the first to describe the personal light exposure pattern during the waking day in elderly with ID.

Methods: The study sample consists of 82 elderly with ID (aged 62.3 ± 9.4 years) living in 16 residential homes of three care organisations in the Netherlands. Personal light exposure was measured continuously for 7–10 days using a HOBO data logger light sensor, measuring illuminance at chest height. Participants wore a wrist-worn accelerometer (Actiwatch or Geneactiv) to indicate the bedtimes to determine the waking day.

Results: The variation in illuminance is small during the waking day. Elderly with ID spend most of their waking day (mean duration = 14:32:43 h) in dim light (1–500 lux) environment and spend a median of 32 min in light > 1000 lux. Within participants, the threshold associated with better sleep (>50 min of light > 1000 lux) was reached for 34% of the days, and the threshold associated with less depressive symptoms (>30 min of light > 1000 lux) was reached in 46% of the days. Exposure > 1000 lux was lower during weekends than during weekdays.

Conclusion: Elderly with ID spend most of their waking day in low light levels and did not meet the proposed values associated with better sleep and mood. Given the importance of adequate light exposure for regulation of sleep and mood, and the prevalence of sleep and mood problems in elderly with ID, the current study suggests that the lit environment for this already frail population should be given more attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-372
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Intellectual Disability Research
Issue number4
Early online date16 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research published by MENCAP and International Association of the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disibilities and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Research programs

  • EMC OR-01


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