Elderly woman with female caregiver in living room.

How Color and Light Can Reduce Dementia Anxiety

July 11, 2019

If your loved one is dealing with Alzheimer’s-related dementia, they may feel anxiety for several reasons, including events or stimuli that inhibit their ability to feel comfortable in their surroundings. When you’re engaged in memory care, establishing a predictable, calming environment can help eliminate things that may be stressors or triggers.

Dementia anxiety is often brought on by visual distractions or a difficulty perceiving one’s space, so it is essential to understand how eyesight affects the brain. As we age, so does our vision. Some changes in eyesight are simply the result of growing older, including the need for more light, reduced sensitivity to contrasts, reduced speed of adapting to change in light, and altered perception of color. We have learned that there is a link between stress and dementia (including Alzheimer’s), but did you know how great a role light and color can play? A senior without dementia already experiences these natural visual deficiencies, so you can imagine the vision and interpretation difficulties a senior with dementia might face. 

Why is lighting and color important for a person with dementia?


Our eyes send signals to our brain, which then interprets the information to create a visual representation. For instance, a senior with Alzheimer’s is at a significant disadvantage compared to their peers because their brain’s ability to process these signals is weakened. As a result, poor lighting and low contrast living environments can make it challenging for a senior to distinguish the features and obstacles around them and safely navigate their way about, potentially leading to anxiety. 

Color and contrast perception naturally worsen with age, but these deficiencies are more intense for seniors affected by dementia. For example, entryways, stairs, handrails, and hallways with low lighting and without contrast can be a struggle to discern; they can be made more evident with high contrast, distinct colors, and twice the normal light, helping seniors to differentiate objects and comprehend the area around them without hesitation. Low contrast features are less noticeable and are appropriate for areas that you may want your senior to avoid. They can also be used to keep floors safer.  

Additionally, sun exposure and light therapy have been proven to lessen agitation and anxiety in seniors with dementia by regulating their circadian rhythms. Exposure to bright light in the morning hours can improve sleep at night, increase daytime wakefulness, reduce evening anxiety and agitation, and consolidate resting patterns. If your loved one suffers from dementia anxiety or has trouble sleeping, spending some time outside can make a huge difference.

The effects of a senior’s eyesight conditions and their ability to process what their eyes see can depend on the progression of their dementia. Without good contrast, colors, and lighting, they may become less spatially-aware and struggle to make sense of their environment. When more light is delivered to their brain, and with colors and contrast that are easily identifiable, our loved ones will become more confident in their abilities to function independently. 

If your loved one is exhibiting agitated behavior due to dementia, head to the Alzheimer’s Association to learn more about treatment options.

Our Family Decision Guide could also help. It’s packed with information and tools that help you weigh up whether a vibrant senior living community with memory care facilities may be the right fit for your loved one. Download it and explore your options!

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