One of the simplest ways to prepare for and accommodate the needs of aging eyes is to layer your lighting. It adds safety, versatility and beauty to a space. To begin, it is important to understand the basic types of lighting: ambient, task and accent.
Tip: Allow for higher levels of lighting by installing dimmer switches. Consider motion sensor lighting for transitional spaces like stairways and halls to minimize lighting contrast from one room or space to the next.
First layer — Ambient
As we age and the eyes take longer to adjust to changes in light levels, ambient lighting becomes increasingly important. Ambient lighting is your foundation layer; it is a soft, indirect light that fills the volume of a room with illumination. It should soften shadows on people’s faces and create an inviting glow in the room. Ambient lighting should be sufficient within a room for holding conversations, walking through or around the space, and easily identifying objects.
Installing motion or occupancy sensors in transitional areas is an easy way to maintain ambient light as you move about the house without constantly turning on lights. With today’s smart home advances, there are applications that can adapt the level of light to the body’s natural circadian rhythm and even read the surrounding lighting levels.
Natural daylighting — from windows, skylights, and glass doors — is a form of ambient lighting. While natural lighting will supplement your lighting plan, do not rely on it exclusively. A breakfast room or nook may be used consistently at 7:00, but there will be much less natural light in the winter than at the peak of summer, and overcast days can occur any day of the year, blocking the sun’s more direct rays.
To eliminate glare, consider installing window film. As a bonus, many types of window film help block UV rays and will help keep your house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
Second layer — Task
Task lighting is focused on a specific area to make the completion of visual tasks easier. For example, under-cabinet lighting helps in food preparation. In the bathroom, task lighting makes it easier to see when shaving or applying makeup. In both of these cases, the task lighting is installed and positioned in such a way that the light source is stationary.
At a desk, in a workroom, or any other area where task lighting is used, choose a light that can be easily adjusted or pivoted to ensure a directional light that is not casting shadows or causing discomfort for the eyes.
Third layer — Accent
Accent lighting is decorative — the jewelry that adds interest and intrigue to a space. It highlights and brings emphasis to a particular object or feature, such as artwork or architectural features. Accent lighting also includes things like decorative pendant lights hanging over an island in the kitchen, lighting positioned above or inside cabinets, a chandelier mounted above a soaking tub, or toe-kick lighting for low-level lighting in the bathroom during the night.
The chance of falling in dim lighting conditions is two to four times greater. Night lights, or way-finders, are great at night. There are LED installations that fit directly into baseboards and cabinet toe-kicks, providing soft, non-glare lighting. More conventional plug-in models are also available, often in various colors.
Tip: At night, an amber-red light can be easier on the eyes and less disruptive if you’re trying to get back to sleep.
By layering light, you can achieve the perfect balance between practical purposing — like chopping vegetables for dinner — and creating a softer ambiance throughout the rest of the space. A thoughtful lighting plan, regardless of a room’s size, can visually and functionally enhance the space.
Get Glare Free
Glare happens to everyone. Just think of the placement of your TV or computer screen, most likely there are occasions where you need to make adjustments. With age, glare tends to happen more frequently and is directly related to the eyes’ need for more light to process details, while also requiring more time to adjust to changes in levels of brightness.
Reading can be particularly difficult due to glare. If you are reading from a paper source — a book or a magazine — choose a task light that is positioned both above and behind you. A matte or diffused shade is preferable as it will provide for more focused light.
That does not mean that reading from a screen or watching TV requires no lighting. On the contrary, the eye will better adapt to the contrast between the screen and the surrounding lighting conditions with the addition of the use of table or floor lamps.
One of the best ways to reduce glare is to create high but uniform lighting within the space. Indirect lighting, such as cove lighting, wall washers, and torchieres, provide a softer down light. Layered light also helps to minimize the effect of glare.
Terry McGowan, director of engineering & technology for ALA and owner of Lighting Ideas in Cleveland states,
"Since eye fatigue occurs more often when we age, the cheapest and best way to accommodate this is to reduce contrast that occurs between light and dark by using up lighting as well as down lighting."
Two ongoing lighting trends to avoid with respect to glare: bare or exposed light bulbs and excessively “bling-y” fixtures with reflective glass and crystals.
Contrast Colors And Finishes
Lighting your home goes beyond selecting the light fixtures and determining their placement. The colors and finishes you choose for your walls, upholstery, flooring, cabinets, countertops, and everything else impact how well you can see. When we’re younger, an all-white palette may be soothing. To the aging eye, such a subtle, tone-on-tone scheme can be highly troublesome as it becomes more difficult for the eye to distinguish mild contrasts.
A cream-colored wall, white stair railing, and neutral Berber carpet on the stairs could blur together into one continuous color, perhaps with only fuzzy outlines, creating a hazard for an elderly person missing a step or grasping the wall instead of the hand rail.
We generally try to blend light switches and receptacles into the wall, preferring a more discreet appearance. Swapping receptacle covers to contrast against the wall makes identification and access easier for older residents.
Finishes become more important in terms of how they absorb or reflect light. Glossy, shiny surfaces, such as high sheen floors or tiles, will lead to more light scattering inside the eye and hence, vision difficulty. Matte surfaces are less reflective and will result in minimal glare. Matte surfaces also tend to have more grip and thus safer underfoot.
Other color considerations: beside your interior colors, consider the different types of light bulbs available. There are different color temperatures, (referenced as Kelvins) that typically fall between the range of 2200K through 6500K that will illuminate your space and effect your vision differently. Make sure to reference our Light Bulb Buying Guide for full insight.
LIGHTING TIPS FOR PRIMARY LIVING SPACES
In all rooms, whether open or closed plan layouts, layer your lighting, install dimmer switches, and place lights on different circuits so that you can more easily play with atmosphere and lighting levels to accommodate activities and time of day.