OBJECTIVES: It is believed that inadequate environmental light, especially in facilities such as care homes, contribute to the diurnal changes of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) historically referred to as "sundowning syndrome". Conceptual models of sundowning phenomena have shifted emphasis from the role of light in vision (image forming) to its role in circadian rhythm modulation. However, the grounds for this change are unclear and the evidence on which it is based has not been examined comprehensively.

METHODS: We have searched literature on sundowning syndrome and its association with light and studies evaluating BPSD, behavioural rhythm and environmental light in care homes in four databases (PubMed, Web of Science, Embase and Cochrane Library) from inception to 31 January 2021.

RESULTS: Of the nine studies investigating light, behavioural rhythm and BPSD in care homes identified, we found evidence that insufficient natural light exposure was associated with worsening of BPSD and disrupted activity rhythm but it was not clear whether this related to image forming or disrupted circadian rhythm. There was a paucity of evidence in relation to the role of low levels of light for image forming in the context of a specific BPSD symptom: visual hallucinations. We also found literature on the possible role of light outside the visible spectrum influencing cognition. Based on the evidence, we proposed a new model integrating different components of light in BPSD and sundowning syndrome that combines its image forming and circadian roles.

CONCLUSIONS: Inadequate light may be a risk factor for BPSD and sundowning syndrome for dementia patients through a range of different mechanisms. It is recommended that multiple neuro-endocrinological and socio-environmental factors relevant to light such as adjusting the environmental setting, increasing light exposure, and scheduling activities should be considered when treating dementia patients with BPSD.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberGPS5712
JournalInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Delirium/complications
  • Dementia/psychology
  • Humans
  • Sleep
  • Syndrome


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