Adapting Your Home Lighting for Aging in Place
Those of us who are of retirement age, may not realize it at first, but one of the most important aspects to a home renovation is lighting.
The eyes of a 30-year-old and the eyes of a 60-year-old see the world very differently, both metaphorically and literally. In the literal sense, several problems arise with aging eyes.
Normal Visual Difficulties That Come with Age
Just like every other part of the body, deterioration of the eye is a natural result of the aging process. While there are a plethora of eye ailments that can occur as we age, almost every set of eyes will experience the following complications:
- A reduction in the ability to see small details.
As the lens of the eye begins to lose elasticity, vision clarity and focus are affected. This necessitates good, bright lighting in areas where details matter (the kitchen, home office, or living area). Consider task lighting as a way to make sure you can focus more clearly on minute details.
- A reduction in contrast sensitivity.
When the pupil muscles weaken transitioning from well-lit areas to dimly lit areas can become more difficult. Likewise, difficulty differentiating between light and dark objects and the inability to detect surface edges are very common issues that come with age. Bright, uniform light is one solution to this problem, as is the use of high-contrast color surfaces.
- A reduction in color discrimination.
The aging eye also typically yellows, which leads to an erosion in color perception. The decreased recognition of blue and green hues, particularly, can create problems. Although bright lighting is again a key solution, so is decorating with rich saturation, so colors are more clearly visible.
- An increased sensitivity to glare.
Halos and glare go hand in hand. While they are a normal visual response to bright lights, as the eye ages and the lens of the eye becomes more opaque, halos and glare become more common. Using opaque lampshades to disperse light and using matte finish on walls and surfaces to reduce light reflection are two ways to minimize the potentially harmful impacts of light in your home.
- Increased susceptibility to eye disease.
Older populations are much more likely to experience eye-related diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and more. Outside of regular eye doctor appointments and surgical procedures, the best remedy for most of these conditions is bright diffusive light. Bouncing light off ceilings or walls can also be of great help with many of these ailments.
Finding the Right Light Source for Your Home
It should be said clearly that no amount of light is too much for your home. As we age, the more light—and the brighter the light—the better. Let’s take a look at several different types of home lighting.
You can achieve comfort, utility and beauty with layered lighting: the combination of available ambient light for general illumination, focused lighting for the areas you use most, and accent lighting. Layering your lighting simply means stepping beyond the basic overhead general light and thoughtfully arranging different styles of lighting to create a cohesive and functional room.
Natural light is great for your home. Not only is it warm and welcoming, it also offers the best kind of light when paired with shears or a diffusive element of some kind. Large picture windows produce beautiful light, as do bay windows and skylights.
Be careful with natural light, however. One downside to relying too heavily on natural lighting for your home is that as the day comes to a close, it can be more and more difficult to see and adapt to the transition. This means that plenty of ambient lighting should be available for when the need arises. You’ll also want to prepare your home for natural light by doing away with shiny surfaces that could reflect the light intensely and create glare. Matte finishes for walls and textured surfaces for tables and counters can help minimize the adverse effects of natural lighting.
Table lamps are a wonderful way to accent your furniture with a light source, while also creating a warm atmosphere. Two big factors to consider when purchasing table lamps include the weight of the lamp and the lampshade. If the lamp is too light, it can be easily knocked over. If the shade is too dim it can create visual hazards that can prevent you from seeing clearly.
For rooms that have only a single light source, the addition of recessed lighting can help considerably. Not only do recessed lights typically diffuse light better, they also brighten a room considerably. Don’t add too many recessed lights, however, and avoid using them in the center of the room. Not only does this diminish the value of recessed lighting as a diffusion tool, it can create a somewhat sterile atmosphere that feels more like a showroom than a home. Instead, evenly space out your recessed lights about four to six feet apart and keep them about 12 to 18 inches from the wall or an object you want to highlight.
Also referred to as “task lighting,” reading and work lighting should be in all areas where focus on details is important. This includes over kitchen counters, sinks, and stove areas, as well as bathroom sinks and counters. Task lighting should also be added to other reading and work areas—such as the bedroom, the living room, and the workshop—using adjustable lights or reading lamps.
As long as they’re out of the way and not in a high-traffic area, floor lamps can make an ideal light source for ambient lighting or task lighting. Beware of floor lamps that have floor button, however. While floor buttons can make floor lamps easy to turn on and off, the buttons are also attached to a cord, which can turn them into tripping hazard.
Every home should have nightlights. For retirees looking to age in place, that goes double. By putting nightlights in your bedroom, hallways and bathrooms, you can create a visible space without having to shock your eye by turning on bright overhead lighting during night excursions to use the restroom. While nightlights with on/off switches are still sold, most come with either motion or light-detecting sensors. The light-detecting sensors are the best, since they remain on as long as it remains dark in your home. Motion sensors are next best, but their effectiveness requires them to be placed in the proper areas, otherwise, you could find yourself bumping into walls or doors before the nightlight is activated.
Motion Detecting Lights
While we’re on the subject of motion detection, wireless motion sensing lights are a great way to ensure your safety. Removing the need to turn on the lights is a way to make sure rooms, stairs, hallways and closets are always bright enough. There are also automatic nightlights to consider. These plug into wall outlets and can be a great option for bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways. As mentioned above, the only downside is that some motion detecting lights can become a hazard if they’re not positioned correctly or if they don’t turn on right away.
Due to varying factors – arthritis, finger flexibility and strength, etc. – it can become difficult to turn off and on table and floor lamps. An alternative to explore is touch switches, which let you change any regular outlet into a touch activated on/off switch. You can use mounting strips to attach the sensors to places most convenient for you to reach. There are also plug adapters, which allow you to convert any lamp with metal into a touch-sensing lamp. The only downside with touch lights is that they can sometimes become very sensitive, which can make turning them on and off difficult. This can also become very frustrating (and time consuming) when using a three-way light bulb.
Whatever light sources you choose for your home, make sure you consider your future needs as you age in place.
If you have any questions about the proper lighting for your age in place home renovation, please feel free to contact us. Our contributors are not your everyday licensed general contractors. They are also certified Aging in Place Specialists as designated by the National Association of Home Builders.