Lighting designed with the requirements of older adults in mind can help them maintain their independence at home and enhance their quality of life; make living environments safer, more attractive, and more comfortable; help prevent accidents; and save money.
Now, the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, has won a grant from the AARP Andrus Foundation to disseminate information on using lighting to help maintain independence and improve the quality of life of older adults living at home and in assisted living environments. This information will be specifically adapted for three groups:
- The general public, including older adults and their family members
- Home designers, architects, and builders
- Caregivers, medical professionals, and service providers to older adults
Mariana Figueiro, director of the light and health program at the LRC, is the project's director. She will be working with Dr. Peter Boyce,
head of the human factors group at the LRC, and LRC Director Dr. Mark Rea. "There are no guidelines for designing lighting specifically for
the needs of older adults," Figueiro said. "Even when you go to Web sites for the aging, information on lighting is limited. This project
will add to the information currently available. It will make people aware that they can improve their daily lives through lighting and teach
them how to do it."
As people age, their eyes change. Older people need more light to see well than younger people do. In fact, a 60-year-old person needs two
to three times as much light as a 20-year-old person to achieve the same visual performance. Older people have a more limited ability to
respond to changes in brightness. They may also lose some sensitivity to color and have trouble discriminating between colors. In addition
to these normal changes, aging eyes may develop cataracts, macular degeneration, or diabetic retinopathy.
Changes in the visual system caused by age or visual impairment can interfere with an older person's ability to live independently. Good
lighting, however, helps compensate for visual problems and supports more comfortable and effective performance of tasks. Unfortunately,
people often have little knowledge of how to adjust the lighting within their homes for deteriorating vision. Their solution is usually to double
or triple the wattage of common incandescent light bulbs used in existing fixtures, resulting in double or triple the cost for electricity used
to light their homes. Also, because of the heat produced by incandescent or halogen lamps, there is an increased risk of injury from burns or
fires. Not only is this practice costly and potentially dangerous, but increasing the amount of light without regard to light distribution
and control can actually make visibility worse than it was under the original lighting conditions.
Under the AARP Andrus Foundation grant, the LRC will take research information on lighting principles for older people acquired through
laboratory and field research and develop guidelines for designing lighting for older adults. The LRC will create three versions of a user-friendly
publication containing room-by-room guidelines for designing lighting for older adults to address the specific information needs of each of
the targeted groups: the general public, design and building professionals, and medical professionals. Interactive Web materials and educational
seminars will also be developed.
All the lighting design recommendations will result in lighting that makes the most of the visual abilities of older adults; uses cost-effective,
energy-efficient lighting products to save money on electricity costs; and uses reliable lighting products to minimize maintenance. "We're
going to take our research findings and put them in plain English," Figueiro said. "After people read these materials, they will know what
they need to do to improve the lighting in their homes. They will be able to go to the store and buy appropriate lighting products to meet
The publications will be available in the summer of 2001. Caregivers, medical professionals, facility managers, building contractors, and
others who work with older adults are encouraged to contact the LRC to obtain copies of the materials.
For more information about the LRC's research on these and other topics, visit our Web site at www.lrc.rpi.edu.
To obtain copies of the publications produced under this grant, contact Mariana Figueiro at the Lighting Research Center, 21 Union Street, Troy,
NY, 12180-3352. Phone: (518) 687-7100. Fax: (518) 687-7120. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.