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Troy, NY -  5/15/2001

Lighting the Way to Independence

Lighting Research Center teams up with AARP Andrus Foundation to help older adults light up their lives

Few people look forward to the time when performing simple tasks, such as reading the newspaper or putting together a jigsaw puzzle, becomes difficult or even impossible. Everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, reading a prescription label, or choosing an outfit, can become difficult or impossible without good sight. Sight is essential to independence, and good lighting is essential to good sight.

Researchers at the Lighting Research Center (LRC) believe that lighting can and should be used to make a positive difference in people’s lives. The LRC developed principles for lighting for older adults and tested those principles in two assisted living facilities. The test results demonstrated that lighting can help older adults maintain their independence and improve their quality of life.

The AARP Andrus Foundation awarded LRC researcher Mariana Figueiro a Dissemination grant to develop these guidelines for designing lighting for older adults. Here are a few of the recommendations developed by the Lighting Research Center:

  • Increase light level by placing fixtures close to your task, or by selecting light bulbs with more lumens (look for lumens rating on the package).
  • Use color contrast. Paint the bathroom doorframe a dark color to contrast with white or light colored walls. Use dark placemats to contrast with white or light porcelain.
  • Place light fixtures over the sink, stove, countertops, and other fixed work areas. Locate these fixtures to the side and slightly in front of the position where a person would usually stand to see the task.
  • If you have upper cabinets, light your countertops with thin, under-cabinet lighting fixtures mounted on the underside of the cabinets.
  • Avoid shadows by placing the light source on the side opposite to your writing hand. Right-handers: place light to your left. Left-handers: to your right.
  • Use light color finishes on walls and ceilings to soften the effects of bright light sources, and to reduce shadows.
  • Place task lights to your side to avoid reflected glare from your work surface or glossy magazines.
  • Bright objects in your field of view impair your ability to see. Place some kind of opaque or translucent material between you and the light bulb if you can see the bare bulb while standing or sitting.
  • Avoid using clear glass light fixtures.
  • Use shades, blinds, or curtains to minimize glare from windows.
  • When using extra light on objects of special interest, such as pictures, vases, etc., aim the lighting at the object, not at your face.
  • For good color fluorescent bulbs, ask for a bulb with a correlated color temperature (CCT) of 2700 to 3500K, and with a color rendering index (CRI) of at least 80. These bulbs are designated as “827,” “830,” and “835.” Remember: electronic ballasts are worth the extra cost-they prevent flickering and buzzing.
  • Never pay a premium for so-called “full spectrum bulbs.”
  • Buy compact fluorescent lamps with the ENERGY STAR label or 130-volt incandescent bulbs, especially for hard-to-reach areas where long life is important.
  • Look for ENERGY STAR torchiere lights. They are less expensive to operate and safer than halogen torchieres.
  • Always have some dim lights on in the room when watching TV or using the computer to minimize the harsh contrast of the bright screen and a dark room.
  • In the bathroom, use a shower light for good visibility. Lights on both sides of your mirror will ensure even lighting without glare when you are shaving, applying makeup, or reading fine print on medication bottles. Choose non-shiny vanity countertop surfaces with light colors to reflect light to the underside of your chin.
  • In the kitchen, avoid having only ceiling fixtures in the center of the room that cast your shadow when you are working at a counter or sink.
  • Light fixtures near your bed should be adjustable and should be placed above your headboard or to your side, below your eye level, to avoid glare.
  • For added safety, keep a flashlight near your bed to guide you in the dark.
  • Use nightlights, or select a fixture to leave on all night near your bedroom, to provide low light levels. Mark the path between your bed and the bathroom with one or more plug-in nightlights. These are commonly available with a photosensor that turns the light on automatically at night.
  • Install light switches with toggles that glow in the dark. Place switches where you can reach them easily from your bed.
  • To be more alert during the day, go outside in the daylight or sit next to a window for at least an hour in the morning. To help you get a good night’s sleep, avoid bright spaces late at night.
  • Where possible, place porch lights on both sides of your door. If you have only one light, place it on the keyhole side of the door. A light with an opening on the bottom will direct light downward so you can find the lock easily. Shield your view of a bare bulb as you approach the door by selecting porch lights with opaque surfaces on the outward-facing surface.
  • Use light and dark colors to help you see steps and railings. If your stairs are dark, paint the vertical portion (riser) of the stair with a light color. If your walls are dark, paint the railing a light color.

More lighting tips and room-by-room guidelines for lighting your home will soon be available in a booklet written by Mariana Figueiro of the Lighting Research Center and published by the AARP Andrus Foundation. To be notified when copies are available online, or to reserve a printed copy, please contact the Andrus Foundation at

About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC conducts research in light and human health, transportation lighting and safety, solid-state lighting, energy efficiency, and plant health. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. Learn more at

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America's first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.