Lighting Research Center

Advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment

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What should be done to make lighting more effective for older adults?
  • Increase light levels - Less light reaches the retina of the older eye. The light levels in living environments used by older adults should be increased by at least two or three times over those comfortable for younger people. Use diffuse, light color finishes on walls, ceilings, and floors to increase interreflected light in the living environment. At least three times more light will be required in task areas to see fine details (e.g., reading prescriptions) or low contrast objects (e.g., black thread on blue cloth). Use adjustable task lights to increase light levels in these areas (see below).
  • Minimize glare - Although more light is required for the older eye to see better, glare should be avoided. Glare is experienced when light sources or bright reflections in the field of view impair vision. Light bulbs seen along the usual lines of sight should be shielded with opaque or translucent shades or covers. Avoid clear-glass light fixtures. Reflections of light bulbs from shiny surfaces, such as linoleum floors and Formica counter tops, should be avoided by changing the position of the light source relative to the usual line of sight or by using matte surfaces. Opaque blinds, shades, or curtains are important for minimizing glare from windows.
  • Increase contrast - Because contrast sensitivity is reduced with age, the visibility of important objects, such as edges of stairs, ramps, and doorways, can be greatly improved by increasing their contrast with paint or similar techniques. Painting the bathroom doorframe a dark color to contrast with white walls will greatly improve its visibility. Purchasing dark placemats to contrast with white china will have a similar effect.
  • Balance light levels - Because the older visual system cannot completely adapt to dim conditions, light levels in transitional spaces such as hallways and entrance foyers should be balanced with those of the adjacent spaces. Create intermediate light levels in transitional spaces that lead from bright to dim areas. This will enable older adults to adapt more completely as they move the different spaces.
  • Improve color perception - Color discrimination is poorer for older adults. High light levels and high-quality fluorescent tubes will help older adults see colors well, and even better than with conventional incandescent light bulbs.

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