My intrepid Mum tripped and fell in the early hours of Saturday morning. Thankfully just badly bruised ribs this time. She, like most of us as we get older heads to the bathroom several times in the night, a perilous journey is linked to up to 63% of falls in older adults, compared to just 17.8% of falls related to other activities. These falls tend to lead to more severe injuries too – Association between toileting and falls in older adults admitted to the emergency department and hospitalised: a cross-sectional study.
My Mum feels her way to the bathroom in the dark because she finds the main lights wake her up too much. Of course she’s right!
But there is a cheap solution. Dim retrofit LED strips, just 1.3 lux (that’s like moonlight) around the bathroom door can reduce postural sway or unsteadiness that many older adults experience, particularly as eyesight deteriorates. Interestingly the improvement in these very low-light conditions was about the same as in the brighter control (436 lux, like a bright kitchen) – The effect of low light levels on postural stability in older adults with age-related macular degeneration. This simple trick can even help them to walk more smoothly, another factor that will cut their risk of a fall – Exploring Older Adults’ Nighttime Trips to the Bathroom Under Different Lighting Conditions: An Exploratory Field Study.
I’ll certainly be trying this out this week. I am deeply grateful to the amazing ambulance team and the team at Dorchester Accident and Emergency. But I would prefer not to have to make that call.
Mum is one of around one in three adults in the UK who will suffer from chronic pain today – Chronic Pain in the Elderly: Mechanisms and Perspectives. In the USA, the estimate is 50 million Americans, or around one in five. Adults who face that daily drain on energy and morale take more than three times more days off for ill-health as their colleagues (10.3 v. 2.8 days per year) – Prevalence of chronic pain among adults in the United States.
As well as the heavy toll in quality of life and productivity, the total cost of prescription pain medications in the USA is conservatively estimated at nearly $18 billion annually and rising – High Medication Costs to Treat Patients with Chronic Pain.
The right light at the right time could be the answer – affordable, sustainable and accessible to all
One study of patients undergoing spinal surgery found that those on the bright side of the room had decreased pain, used less analgesic mediation and spent an average of 21% less on pain medication overall compared to those on the windowless side – The Effect of Sunlight on Postoperative Analgesic Medication Use: A Prospective Study of Patients Undergoing Spinal Surgery.
Bright light reduces pain thresholds and improves function for those suffering from chronic pain too. One study of women with fibromyalgia found that just one hour of bright light in the morning or the afternoon improved their tolerance, but only the morning exposure helped them to manage their pain too – Morning Versus Evening Bright Light Treatment at Home to Improve Function and Pain Sensitivity for Women with Fibromyalgia: A Pilot Study.
Another study among US Veterans suffering from chronic low back pain found that an hour of light exposure (3000 lux, less than a SAD lamp which is usually 10,000) every morning over 13 days reduced the severity of pain ‘flares’ by up to 50% – Morning Bright Light Treatment for Chronic Low Back Pain: Potential Impact on the Volatility of Pain, Mood, Function, and Sleep.
Looking for an unusual stocking filler for your loved one?
Well, is it socks or a lightbulb? Good ones of both are expensive. And you use them every day!
So what should you get?
The best place to start is their desk: they’re likely to spend eight to ten or even twelve hours there a day.
You’ve got two options. The first is to upgrade the lightbulb in an existing lamp, like my trusty old angle poise. First look for brightness and colour temperature. Aim for at least 13 watts, or 1520 lumens. Some people prefer a cooler look – called ‘daylight’ on the pack. Some people prefer a warmer colour temperature. It makes a slightly softer look on the face.
The second option is a model with the lightbulbs built in. Here you can go for a product with manual controls or a wifi control with an app. If you’re going for manual controls, I’m a fan of BenQ as a brand – solid build, great quality of light and easy controls. If you’re going for wifi, the new premium product from Bios is the best one I’ve seen.
I hope that inspires you to go shopping for lights!
The occasional gardener
I’m now the proud custodian of plot 03A behind St Mary’s Church in Bridport, a privilege I share with a sharp-eyed robin. This peaceful patch is shaded by a large cherry tree, which got me wondering about how light levels will affect the seeds I sow.
Plants use different wavelengths for specific things: blue (400-500) and red (600 to 700nm) power photosynthesis, while green (520–610 nm) and far red (700-800nm) build resilience, strength and shape. Plants in the shade obviously get less light overall. But the far-red wavelengths are filtered out by the canopy overhead – and is a critical cue for the Shade Avoidance Response: reaching up or sideways to get some light, usually at the expense of leaf or root mass – Interplay between low light and hormone-mediated signaling pathways in shade avoidance regulation in plants.
The intensive horticulture sector pours billions of dollars (and lumens) into artificial lights. But my muddy plot doesn’t have access to power. Plus I am keen to reduce my carbon footprint. So I was fascinated to read this pioneering research that explored the potential for filters on greenhouse glass to selectively remove or switch the wavelengths from natural sunlight. Substituting green with far-red wavelengths boosted the fresh and dry mass of lettuce by 22-26%. Excluding those wavelengths reduced both crop growth and yield – Spectral-conversion film potential for greenhouses: Utility of green-to-red photons conversion and far-red filtration for plant growth. I’m definitely going to give that a try!
Watch this space!