Lighting and Seniors

Seniors today are leading different, more active lifestyles than in years past. However, despite the changes we can see through our technological advancements and even medical advancements, growing old comes with changes within our bodies, from differing sensations in our muscles to the way we perceive the world around us. One notable difference is within our eyes. As we grow older, our eyes age in their own way. Causing us to perceive everything just a bit differently. For an Interior Designer, this means that there is a need to be mindful of seniors. Especially when it comes to picking out lighting for their homes. Lighting is an important consideration as it is what guides perception as well as everyday functions. It’s essential to take note of the differences and what ways designers can help in easing adaptation to a new viewpoint.

How do our Eyes Change as we Age?

As we age, the quality of our eyesight, unfortunately, decreases as the anatomy of our eyes changes. The lens and ciliary muscles harden over time, reducing and slowing down the eye’s ability to focus. Meanwhile, the pupil shrinks, allowing less light to enter the eye. This makes our surroundings darker, and our cornea becomes increasingly more opaque, obstructing the clarity at which we see. The effects of these changes not only deplete our focus but make our eyes more sensitive to glaring. The clouding of our lens produces glaring and is especially harmful to seniors as this can overwhelm the eyes and block out vital information from their surroundings. This includes objects and people that should be in clear view but are obstructed from view by the glare of lights.

Among these changes, seniors also experience difficulty seeing small fonts and long distances. These details are harder to see and require more effort creating a higher demand for lighting. To only add to the list, Seniors as well have a decrease in color sensitivity. Colors can become increasingly harder to pick out, and blues and greens become even more difficult to contrast. 

Things to Consider for Chicago Interior Designers

With this growing inability to rely on their eyesight, there are more things to consider.  For example, it can become dangerous for seniors to be in a space where light is utilized for different ocular capabilities. We need to be mindful of the limitations for seniors in the home. If we are not, it may result in an increase in falls and or accidents. A fall is far more fatal for a senior and can result in far more severe injuries than if the same occurrence were to happen when we are younger. There is even a chance that a senior might not be able to see a threat or intruder on the premise of their home. Preventing them from making out the danger even if they are in the line of sight.

Designers need to keep these changes in mind for the safety and comfort of a senior’s lifestyle. Lighting can make all the difference in well-being and welfare. 

Assisting Through Design

Despite the issues our eyes face with age, there are methods Designers can use to promote better vision. Methods such as using lighting fixtures in a way that makes up for where a senior’s eyes may fall short. The best way to do this is to ensure that there is enough light for everyday use. Lighting, which will enable a continued ability to perform tasks well. Without overusing light, which produces the overwhelming glaring effect mentioned before. 

One very effective solution when picking out light fixtures is to incorporate shaded light fixtures over workspaces. Shaded lights are fixtures where the bulb is covered by a material you can’t see through. This usually directs the light up and or down. Most importantly, away from the line of sight to minimize the occurrence of glaring. Other methods of indirect lighting can also be utilized and are just as effective in combating the glare of uncovered beaming lights. Combining methods within a space can produce just enough supporting light without ultimately polluting the area with over-illumination. Some options include opaque casings, backlighting, cove lighting, under cabinet lighting, track lighting, and recessed lights. 

Cove lighting can be especially a helpful method. It can help the eye navigate through a large amount of space without resorting to any direct lighting. 

Using Recessed Lighting

However, there should be some precautions when using recessed lights. These lights can come in the form of flat disk lights that have become increasingly trendy in recent years. For seniors, it is best to have the light recess further into the ceiling, at least 3″ deep, in order to eliminate direct light exposure from the bulb. Indirect lighting is most important in areas of the home that require more focus and demanding work. Areas for such work include the kitchen and laundry room. These areas are the most important to consider when trying to decrease the chances of an avoidable accident. 

In the living room and bedroom, this space doesn’t regularly need to be as well lit as these areas are more so designated for leisure. For relaxation, it’s more command practice for a dimmer atmosphere. So additional light may not be required; however, it can still be useful within these spaces. Some seniors like to read or enjoy detailed work in their spare time. For these moments, it’s recommended to place them in readily accessible and adjustable task lights. They can be placed around areas such as tables, beds, and couches. Task lights should be within comfortable reach in predictably working areas around the home. Besides task lights, under-bed lights and torchieres are suitable types of fixtures for indirect lighting for the space.

Closets are also overlooked areas in the home that require special attention for lighting. Many Seniors complain about how ineffective the single bulb in the closet is at illuminating anything past the uppermost shelves of the closet. For an easy fix installing lights under shelves and along the sides of the closet brightens it up and makes it easier to distinguish colors!

Safe Navigation Through The Home

Another essential consideration for seniors is navigation. Nighttime navigation can become harder with age as it can take a senior longer to adapt to dimmer environments. In order for a senior to safely navigate through each room and throughout their entire home, there needs to be a clear, well-lit path to avoid the risk of falling or tripping over objects that could be placed in the way. A good solution can be to include low lumen or toe kick lighting. This light source runs near the flooring and is directed downwards to illuminate lower levels of the room. Additional lighting can also be placed behind the handrail and around the base rail. Dimmed aisle lights can be installed on the side of baseboards and railings. This will highlight these features and induce enough light to help nighttime navigation. The most critical areas to emphasize are stairs and changes in elevation, which are tripping hazards and can be very dangerous for seniors to navigate around. 

Switches

Another huge factor to take into consideration is how to make it easier for seniors to control the lights within their homes. Some lights can be motion censored, such as the ones that are used for navigating through the home in darkness. However, it is best to avoid small and hard-to-access switches for manual lighting. Foot pressors, paddles, and large light switches are the best. These are the most accessible access to turn on the lighting source without fumbling around in the dark. Remote control lights are also a convenient way to turn on certain lights. With the rise of innovative home features, it’s become increasingly easier to carry all your light switches with you in your pocket. The evaluations in technology are tools to be considered depending on the level of technological comfort each senior client may have. A control with too many switches can become frustrating.

Sleep

When adding extra light sources in the home, it’s important to be aware of how this may affect our daily lives and routine before you finalize installations. One major consideration to ponder over is the effects of how these light sources affect our sleep. When it comes to older individuals, their circadian rhythm is usually a bit different.  Seniors produce hormones in a slightly different way from younger generations. As we age, our natural melatonin levels decline gradually and may lower sleep quality and efficiency in our bodies’ abilities to fall asleep. For this reason, it’s more common for insomnia to develop as we grow older. This is known as Advance sleep phase syndrome. This means our bodies feel the need to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. Even if this is not intended. It’s more likely for older individuals to fall asleep at 6 PM-9 PM and then wake up at 2 AM-5 AM. 

Light can be a disruptor of our circadian rhythm. You may notice this when you go to the bathroom late at night and suddenly can’t go back to sleep or when you’re on your phone before bed and then have trouble falling asleep. Blue light, in particular, is the culprit of such outcomes as our body’s receptors are more sensitive to it and then proceed to block our melatonin production as a result. In addition, blue light and red light are linked to an increase in our production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that is linked to coordinating our sleep cycle. This means our energy levels go up when we are directly exposed to these lights. Seniors have a disadvantage in light sensitivity as the skin of their eyelids is thinner, making it easier to disrupt their sleep and the chemical production in their bodies. 

Designers have to be mindful of where and how they are using light within the home.

One solution is to use a blue filter for lights that are more intended for night navigation. This can decrease the likelihood of full arousal when going to the bathroom at night or on the chance of waking up due to Advanced Sleep Syndrome. Other methods used to combat this issue are to install timer set yellow night lights in bathrooms and bedrooms. It’s also important to keep in mind what everyday devices emit light and find convenient and effective ways to eliminate the blue light sources from the bedroom. 

Some seniors like to incorporate preset automated shades in their rooms that close on their own in the latter part of the day and then open for natural lighting to wake them up in the morning. This helps regulate sleep cycles and gives seniors one less thing to worry about throughout the day.

Low vision and Partial Blindness

When making accommodations for people with low vision or partial blindness conditions, there’s a demand for specialized lighting that can promote better navigation and safety throughout the home. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, the best sort of lighting for people of this condition are ones that mimic the appearance of natural sunlight with broad, comprehensive coverage of the room. Chromalux Natural Light Bulbs are specific recommended light bulbs for this situation that closely imitate natural daylight and increase contrast. In addition, large, easy-to-find footswitches are an excellent add-on for easier accessibility to quality lighting. 

Conclusion

The way light affects our day-to-day life has both positive and negative outcomes. Practicing to recognize how certain features may affect our lives is what makes Interior Design so much more than just decorating and appeasing the space to aesthetics. It’s a well-rounded regard for all our habits and responsibilities within the space we call our home. Contact NZ Design & Associates in Chicago to learn more about lighting in a new construction, apartment remodel, or single-family home!