Lighting is a critical factor when choosing to age in place.

It’s often difficult for seniors and people with disabilities to clearly see in lighting that may be adequate for others.

It seems to be common sense that in order to live safely and independently, seniors need to be able to see their surroundings easily and clearly. Unfortunately, sometimes lighting is the last aspect considered when designing, building, and remodeling living spaces for loved ones who are aging.

Want to test the lighting in your parents’ home?

Wear a pair of sunglasses smeared with some petroleum jelly. Then spend a couple hours walking around to experience the environment as they do. Glares, difficulty recognizing faces, and even getting a headache or tired eyes are indicators that the lighting needs updated.

In this article, long-term care designer, Margaret P. Calkins, Ph.D., president of IDEAS, Inc., and board chair of the IDEAS Institute, addresses the importance of lighting.

When asked why she feels that lighting is such an important quality-of-life issue, Calkins explained that as people age, changes in vision occur that affect the ability to perceive and understand the world around them. “For instance, there are normal age-related changes in the pupils (less light can enter the eye), the eyes’ accommodation speed decreases (it takes longer for eyes to transition to different light levels), and color perception weakens (yellowing of the lens makes it difficult to distinguish greens from blues).”

She also notes that older eyes become more sensitive to glare—both direct glare (from a directly visible lighting source, such as an unshielded bulb) and indirect glare (a consequence of bright light bouncing off reflective surfaces, such as shiny floors). “Compounding the problem is that many older adults develop diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts,” Calkins adds.

In regards to lighting—Calkins says that tweaking it can actually sometimes compensate for visual deficiency. On the most basic level, the goal of lighting design for older adults is to increase foot-candles, which are units of illumination on a surface, without increasing glare. “An excellent way to accomplish this when ceiling heights are sufficient (generally a minimum of 8’6”, preferably 9’, for indirect lighting) is through indirect light that is bounced off the ceiling.” She adds that this indirect lighting provides even, low-glare illumination—however, because the ceiling absorbs some of this light, it requires more foot-candles to achieve adequate lighting.

But it is also very important that bulbs meet the appropriate Color Rendering Index (CRI), so that colors appear natural (i.e., as they are seen in sunlight). Calkins explains, “For a long time fluorescents have been the only color-correct, energy-efficient alternative to expensive incandescent bulbs—but now color-correct metal halide bulbs are available. These bulbs provide cost-savings because of their long life and energy efficiency.” She adds that these bulbs often take up to five minutes to “warm up” to achieve full light output. The benefit of this is that the eyes, especially older eyes, have an opportunity to gradually adjust to the light level.

Bathrooms, especially, need to have appropriate lighting because in these areas people frequently change body positions and need to navigate safely. She also suggests paying close attention to the location of switches—they should be positioned low enough for someone seated in a wheelchair to reach easily.

According to Calkins, one of the most common lighting problems that can be easily and affordably corrected is replacing those switch plates that are the same color or pattern as the walls. “Often they are covered in the same wallpaper to provide continuity with the wall. These switch plates become virtually invisible to anyone with any vision loss. By color contrasting the switch plates with the walls, it makes them easier for older adults to locate.”

Are you thinking of renovating or making some simple changes to your bathroom to make it more accessible? Let us help. Village Craftsmen offers a THRIVE Bathroom Design Safety Program to not only help you age in place, but thrive in place.  An in-home, experienced rehabilitation technician will:

* LISTEN to your concerns regarding bathroom safety

* ASSESS your bathroom with the Thrive Safety Protocol

* PROVIDE you with recommendations for your safety & fall prevention

* ARRANGE for a quote to install safety enhancements if you desire

To learn more please complete the form on this page or call 330-896-2000.