Our home is often the place we feel most happy and secure, but as we age, how comfortable we feel in them might change. The cosy lamps in the living room might seem a bit too moody, the stairs might turn into a cause for worry, and we are more aware of the edge of that carpet and where our toes are in relationship with it: No tripping please!
We all have to adapt to our changing bodies as we age, and modifying our houses and apartments can be really helpful for safety. Redecorating keeps things feeling fresh, and with the right kind of tips and tricks, making a home accessible for yourself or for aging parents can be done without succumbing to an “institutional feel”. If you are looking to give your living room and kitchen a little facelift, or that of an older parent, this article was written for you.
So what exactly are these physical changes we should consider when making design choices that will suit us into old age? They are not far off from the classic 5 senses, plus one. They are our vision, hearing, smell, taste, muscular and skeletal anatomy, as well as our sleep patterns. It is important to understand how these evolving senses can change our experience of space so that we can compensate for them through design.
In this article, we will discuss our sense of sight and six things to consider when choosing lighting for our homes for aging in place.
How our vision changes as we age and designing for it
photo of older man: Angelina Litvin
When we age, the muscles that control the dilation of our pupils weaken. Our pupils become smaller, and less light reaches the retina. This results in dimmer vision, and a loss in our ability to see subtle levels of contrast. This is why people in their sixties need three times more ambient light to read by than those in their twenties. When there are changes in brightness in a space, such as when moving from a dim room to a bright room, it takes longer for our eyes to adjust, and we feel discomfort from the glare. When moving from a bright room to a dark room, it takes more time for our pupils to dilate, so a room will look darker for longer, making walking around at night a bit more adventurous.
Tip 1: Increase the ambient lighting in your home
Credit: Michael Moran
Increasing the ambient light in your home is a great way to compensate for those tired pupils. Ambient light is the overall light of a room. It includes the cumulative effect of daylight coming in from windows, as well as whatever interior lights are turned on, including recessed ceiling lights, drop lights, lamps, wall sconces etc. The new Morningside Gardens Co-op Apartments in New York pictured above includes ample ambient lighting in a common room. The design is intended to foster the abilities of the residents, and this lighting design combined with natural light from the window does just that.
From a design standpoint, I would not suggest adding fluorescent tube lighting to a ceiling in a home, but increasing the overall lighting in a room will make for a more comfortable and safe experience. Remember that all light sources contribute to the brightness of a room, and no one source needs to provide all the light necessary to see with confidence.
Not sure what to ask for when you go to your local store? The table below gives you an idea of how bright each room in your home needs to be depending on your age. You also need to learn to talk lumens, which is the overall brightness of a light bulb.
Compact fluorescent or LEDs can provide up to four times more light in the same fixture than an incandescent as a 15 watt CFL will provide as much light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Word to the wise; be sure to check the maximum wattage in your existing fixtures at home. You should never put a bulb in your fixture that exceeds the allowable wattage.
Tip 2: Older eyes interpret colour differently, but choosing the right bulb can help.
What about how we perceive colours as we age? Yes, this changes too. Our lenses can become denser and yellow with age, which means that they absorb more of the blue spectrum of light. This distorts the colours we see. Greens, blues and violets become harder to tell apart, and blue starts to look like grey. Practically speaking, this change can affect our ability to distinguish the difference between the end of one stair and the drop to the next or our ability to match an outfit.
What is helpful for aging eyes and colour distinction are whiter lights. The cooler and brighter white light that LED and compact fluorescent (CFL) sources provide is closer to daylight, and helps to compensate for our difficulty seeing the subtle differences between the shades of things. However, it can also feel a bit harsh compared to the warm glow of the incandescents we are all used to, so choose where you use them. No need to put them in a lamp in the living room, but installing them in your stairway is a wise idea.
Cree Soft White Light 60W Dimmable LED bulb, Philips’ Equivalent Soft White A19 Dimmable bulb
While the lighting industry is still trying to design that perfect bulb, one of the best choices out there are the Cree Soft White Light 60W Dimmable LED bulb, or Philips’ Equivalent Soft White A19 Dimmable bulb. With a warm glow, these bulbs will deliver the best of both worlds as well as help you to save money on your energy bill. (LEDs is the most efficient light out there). This makes them a nice choice for your kitchen, where you need proper task lighting. If I could add an extra light anywhere in my kitchen, it would be a pendant lamp over my sink to make my dish washing a bit more reliable. Check out this nice design by Avram Rusu and this pretty kitchen sink detail from Jennifer Rizzo's blog.
In the same vein, adding a white light LED for closet lighting helps us to see the true colour of our clothing, which is key when putting together our outfits for the day. This design by Q-Tran LED is a fantastic solution to lighting a closet or pantry.
Tip 3: Improve your task lighting
Increasing task lighting around where you spend most of your time, such as desk lamps for working or hobbies or lamps in your bedroom or living room are easy and stylish fixes for low light levels. When choosing your new lamps, don’t forget to check how to turn them on. Some knobs are finicky and are harder for stiff hands to manipulate. This task light from West Elm is a nice choice for desk lighting (with an easy button), and for hobby spaces in particular. And the USB plug in for your smart phone is a nice perk.
Tip 4: You want to see the light, but not the bulb
Another thing to keep in mind when you choose your fixtures is that you never want to see the bulb. That just pain hurts. The glare will make it harder for your eyes to adjust when you look away, so keep those bulbs well hidden! Here are some examples of fixtures that will keep your rooms bright without causing glare from Dwell.
Tip 5: Keep the light even whenever possible
Because adjusting our eyes between high and low light levels difficult, it’s good practice to keep light levels somewhat even throughout the home. Consider using dimmer switches and turning lights to low when you leave a room instead of off entirely. There are also motion sensor solutions out there if adjusting to different levels of light is a key issue for you.
Tip 6: Consider motion sensors
For that trip to the bathroom at 2am or to the kitchen for a late night snack, there are some great motion sensor solutions out there. If you would like to use existing fixtures in your hallway, the ASHIA LIGHT, Indoor Motion Sensing Light Bulb is the solution for you. It detects light and motion within a five meter radius and will stay on between 40 and 60 seconds.
There are also a variety of peel and stick solutions for sensor lighting. Easy to install, these lights can be put anywhere, from the wall near the foot of a bed (so a light comes on as soon as your feet hit the floor), along a hallway, or in the bathroom, basement, garage and even inside cupboards.
Light for life!
Creating the right light environment as our eyes evolve can make a big difference to our quality of life. With the help of all the great technology out there, we can make our homes safer and accomplish our daily activities without too much eye strain!
While these tips are aimed to improve the experience of places and spaces, at Tonomy Shop we take the same principles and apply them to improve your experience of the products we make. That is why our rollator and walker tote bags come with purse lights, because a dark bag is often as difficult to navigate as a dark home!
Stay tuned for our next article, where we will delve into other decorating tips for older adults that go beyond the light bulb!