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Lighting for Aging Eyes

  • Posted: 01.22.2018
reading by the light of a lamp

Aging goes beyond the gray hair and wrinkles that we notice as we look into the mirror. As early as age 40, our eyes also begin to show signs of “wear and tear.” Several of the most obvious signs of eye change are needing reading glasses or developing cataracts.

According to the American Lighting Association, these are common aging eye changes:

  • Reduced visual acuity (ability to see small details)
  • Reduced contrast sensitivity (harder to see differences between light and dark objects and surfaces)
  • Reduced color discrimination
  • Longer time required to adapt to large and sudden differences in brightness
  • Increased sensitivity to glare

As a result of these changes, seniors need brighter, better, and more consistent lighting to avoid shadows, help with fine motor tasks, and to avoid tired eyes. One lighting expert says we need twice as much light to see well at age 60 as we do at age 30. However, glaring lights can actually deter the ability to see well, so there must be a balance. 

In addition, experts say that two other aging factors make proper lighting important: an increasing number of falls and sleeping disorders. Lighting needs to illuminate areas where we might stumble, especially when getting up at night.

The American Lighting Association suggests these steps:

  • Add lighting in task areas such as kitchen counters, the bathroom, and in any other areas where concentrated tasks are performed.
  • Add indirect lighting to soften shadows and make a room’s lighting uniform.
  • Reduce glare through use of diffusing shades, rather than bare, bright bulbs.
  • Adjustable task lights make it easier to read fine print or perform small-motor tasks (such as sewing).
  • Dimmers help adjust lighting to the task at hand.
  • Low-level, well-shielded stair, entrance, and hallway lights make steps visible and help illuminate potential hazards.
  • Automatic motion sensor controls to turn on hallway or bathroom lights make it safer and easier to get up at night.    

The Illuminating Engineering Society has additional suggestions Use general, ambient lighting consistent from one room to another; higher light levels to compensate for the mature eye’s restricted ability to absorb light; glare-free lighting; and lighting that helps the aging eye to distinguish between colors and compensate for the yellowing of the human lens over time.

In specific lighting areas

  • Family room and living room: Position floor and table lamps to enhance comfort, making sure there are no trailing cords, which can cause trip and fall accidents.
  • Kitchens: Position linear and strip fluorescent fixtures under cabinets, over the sink, and on top of cabinets to create an inexpensive, indirect, ambient lighting scheme that is diffused and glare-free.
  • Nighttime: To light a path from the bedroom at night, an illuminated light switch near the bed and nightlights can enhance safe passage, while rope lights installed under outdoor stair rails can provide much-needed additional light in exterior spots.

Inexpensive solutions

  • Add floor lamps with moveable arms that you can swing over your book or craft project.
  • Consider lights that clamp onto a work surface for putting a puzzle together or working on your latest needlework project.
  • In the bedroom, installing a headboard with a reading light built in is more flexible and better at directing light where you need it than a lamp on a side table.
  • Track lighting is an easy way to retrofit a room for additional lighting.
  • Consider lighting controls and make sure they are easy to use; for example, remote controls are easily accessible and generally don’t take much hand strength to operate. Lights on timers ensure that you won’t stumble in the dark if you come home late in the evening. Motion sensors can help you maneuver in the house if you get up in the middle of the night.
  • Don’t forget stairways, hallways, and anywhere there is a flooring surface change. Adding good lighting to these areas can prevent stumbles and falls.
  • Light closets to make it easier to match clothing items (closet lighting) and find stored items without having to pull them from the closet to view them.

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