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Troy, NY -  7/25/2000

Lighting Research Center Wins Grant from AARP Andrus Foundation to Educate the Public about Lighting for Older Adults

Summary: The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, has won a grant from the AARP Andrus Foundation to educate the public about good lighting for older adults. Under the grant, the LRC will produce both written and

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 their needs."

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 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:

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.