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  • Robert Denning

How to design the perfect lighting plan for senior spaces.


Lighting is probably not the first thing you think about when remodeling or redesigning your home, or the home of your parent, but it can have a significant impact on the everyday functionality of the space. Lighting selection should be based on the use of the room and your personal circumstances.


Our eyes aren’t getting any younger.

As we get older, our eyesight is not what it used to be and more lighting is typically needed to handle everyday tasks. In addition to general vision decline, older adults may be dealing with one or more of the following issues:

Cataracts – The lens of the eye appears cloudy making things look more blurry and less colorful.

Glaucoma – This is typically caused by fluid build-up in the front part of your eye making vision blurry.

Macular Degeneration – Caused by the degeneration of the central part of the retina, this condition causes wavy or blurry vision and sometimes loss of sight in the middle of the eye.


Look on the bright side.

Older adults typically need brighter light than their younger counterparts. Overhead recessed lighting throughout the house can be a good solution as long as there are not a lot of reflective surfaces in the home that create glare. Glare can be a challenge because as we age it takes our eyes longer to adjust to light. If you’re planning a remodel or redesign, consider matte surfaces rather than shiny ones to reduce glare.


If you opt for overhead lighting, I’d recommend you include a dimmer, especially for multi-generational homes where some of the younger residents may not want bright light. It will also give the older adults the option of controlling the amount of light in a room if they are coming from outside where it is much lighter or darker. Remember, their eyes need more time to adjust. Slide controls are easier for seniors to use especially if they are suffering from arthritis or have dexterity issues.


Based on your specific needs, adjustable task lighting can also be an effective solution by providing additional light where it is commonly needed. Kitchen task lights and cabinet lighting is a great help for managing the needs of daily living. And don’t forget about closets. Dark or poorly lit closets can be a daily struggle for older adults with blurry vision.


Keep it cool.

Besides the fixture, the bulb you select is an important choice. LED bulbs can be purchased with various temperature ranges to suit a variety of spaces and functions. Warm light bulbs are used in cozy, relaxed environments and have 2,700 kelvins and below. Cool light is more energizing and is appropriate for work areas and task lighting. These bulbs have 3,000 kelvins and above. The packaging identifies if the bulb gives off cool or warm light so you probably don’t need to commit the kelvin measure to memory. In spaces for older adults, especially if they have vision issues, cool white lighting is typically the best choice.


Bulb packaging also includes a CRI measure (color rendering index). As we age, the lenses of our eyes begin to yellow making it difficult to distinguish between blue and green. Choosing lighting with a CRI of 80 or above can help older adults by providing the most accurate color perception.

Location, location, location.

In addition to the location of the lighting itself, a lot of thought should be given to where you place controls. Make sure there are switches at the top and bottom of stairs and at each end of a hallway. For these spots, consider a fixture that has two bulbs in case one burns out and the resident can’t change it themselves or get someone to come over and change the bulb right away. Switches should be located no higher than 48 inches above the floor and rocker switches are easier to use for those with limited dexterity. Plus it’s just better for everyone for those times when your hands are full with packages or laundry.


Exterior lighting near steps, pathways, entrances, and parking areas should also be evaluated. A motion sensor light can be a good choice for these areas for safety as well as security.


Make it personal.

Everyone’s home is different and everyone has their own lighting needs. The recommendations shared here are by no means all inclusive but are a good place to start. When considering the lighting needs in the home of an older adult, remember that they have their own unique vision challenges. Discuss their needs with them to determine how to create the best solution. It can also help to walk through the house with them and discuss how the areas in each room are used and plan your lighting accordingly. Planning ahead can save you headaches and money in the long run. By determining where you’ll need electrical connections, you won’t need to have the contractor or electrician come back out after your remodel has been completed.


It's all about creating the best, safest environment to make life easier and give you peace of mind.

Learn more about thoughtful interior design that can help older adults remain at home longer.

Sources:

https://www.kichler.com/tips-guides/indoor-lighting-guide/project-planning-cabinet-lighting/

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-cataracts

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-glaucoma

https://www.macular.org/what-macular-degeneration

https://www.lumens.com/light-bulb-facts/color-rendering-index.html

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