Lighting Tips for Improved Senior Living and Safety

Lighting for seniors

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Adequate lighting in a senior’s home is vital for their safety. Without it, obstacles, steps, and dark hallways can be the cause of many dangerous accidents and falls around the home.

Sharpness of vision, as we get older, diminishes, putting us at greater risk in our everyday lives. The use of quality in-house lighting not only allows us to see better but it can even enhance our mood, just as going from a dismal day to a day of sunshine, will automatically make us feel better in ourselves.

While in-house lighting may often be overlooked, this is a big mistake especially for anyone with impaired mobility or anyone suffering with visual impairments. In this article, we will cover tips and advice on ways to improve lighting around the home to improve a senior’s life as well as increasing their safety allowing them to live independently for longer.

In-House Lighting Tips for Seniors

1. Ensure Light Switches Are Correctly Positioned

Ensure light switches are located at the entrance of rooms as well as near exists so that they are easily accessible. In the bedroom, install a light switch near to the bed so that it can be operated without the user needing to get up. In the living room, place light switches next to where the user regularly sits down.

Light switches should also be positioned at a comfortable height for the user. ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) recommends that light switches should be located no higher than 48 inches from the floor. For wheelchair users, it is recommended that the light switch is positioned no higher than 40 inches so that it can easily be reached from a seated position.

Toggle light switches can be difficult to operate for anyone with reduced hand dexterity. Rocker and touch-sensitive light switches require less force to operate and are easier to use. Touch-sensitive light switches like the one shown below that illuminate in the dark, assists the user in finding the location of the switch in the darkness thus helping to reduce the risk of falls.

2. Use Dimmer Light Switches

Whether you’re reading a newspaper or watching a movie, dimmer light switches allow you to easily adjust the intensity of the lighting to suit your particular needs as well as mood.

Seniors are often more sensitive to light levels. Too much bright lighting can prove uncomfortable to the ageing eye. Being able to control the level of lighting throughout the day allows the user to have the right lighting for all situations as well as helping to reduce eye strain.

Installing dimmer switches in the bedroom can prove beneficial. Having dimmer lighting before going to bed can help you to unwind which can promote a better night’s sleep.

3. Favor LED Bulbs Over Incandescent Ones

LED light bulbs offer a number of benefits over incandescent, halogen and florescent ones. Not only are LED bulbs more efficient, they use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescent ones, they are also longer lasting.

Bulb efficiency comparison

On average an LED bulb has a life expectancy of 50,000 hours, compare that to an incandescent bulb which typically lasts only 1,000 hours. This means that a LED bulb can last over 15 years of regular daily use, this means you won’t need worry about regularly replacing them which is ideal for anyone with limited mobility who may struggle with the task.

The brightness of a LED bulb is measured in lumens. The higher the number, the brighter the light will be. If for example you’re looking to replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a LED bulb, you should replace it with a bulb that provides 1600 lumens.

Unlike a traditional incandescent bulb which emits a warm white color (2700 K (kelvin)), LED bulbs can come in a range of different color temperatures. Color temperature simply refers to the warmth or coolness of the color emitted from the bulb.

Kelvin color temperatures for LED’s can range anywhere from 2700 K (warm white) up to 6500 K (cooler white or bluish).

Kelvin color temperature scale chart

Cooler light (3500-6500 K) which is brighter, is better suited for use in the kitchen, bathroom, garage as well as for particular tasks that require close-up work such as reading. Warmer color temperatures (2700-3000 K) on the other hand, are generally more suited for ambient lighting for use in the bedroom, dining room and living room due it’s more relaxing feel.

4. Keep Glare to a Minimum

Sunlight and harsh lighting can be uncomfortable for the elderly eye. Underlying eye conditions such as contracts and macular degeneration can mean that seniors may experience greater light sensitivity which can increase the effects of glare.

Glare can not only impair vision and prove distracting, it can also be particularly dangerous as it can hide potential tripping hazards around the home so it is important to try to minimize the effects of it.

Glare can come from either a direct light source or it can be reflected off surfaces. Glare from direct light source can be minimized by using curtains, smart blinds to reduce the amount of natural daylight entering a room as well as fitting lamp shades on exposed light bulbs and increasing the number of light sources in a room so that there is uniform lighting throughout.

Reflective glare can be reduced by using a matte finish instead of gloss on walls, floors and ceilings and ensuring glass and shiny metal countertops are covered.

5. Balance Lighting Between Rooms

Adjusting between different lighting levels can take longer for the ageing eye. If a user for example walks from a brightly lit room to a dimly light one and vice-versa, their eyes will take longer to adapt between the differences in lighting levels.

Due to this, it is important that lighting is kept uniform between adjacent areas in order to avoid the individual from getting dazzled when transitioning from different lighting levels.

6. Use Bulbs with a CRI of at Least 80

The ability to be able to distinguish colors can decrease as we get older. Conditions such as cataracts can cause yellowing of the lens which in turn can cause the eye to absorb more blue light. This can alter the way seniors see colors as well as making them appear less vivid to the eye.

In order to overcome this, seniors should use the correct lighting to compensate for the decline in color discrimination. To help with this, choose bulbs that have at least a color rendering index (CRI) of 80 or higher which will allow users to see “truer” colors. The color rendering index, is simply a measure of how accurate colors appear under a particular light source and ranges from 0 to 100.

7. Use Abundant Ambient Lighting

Ambient lighting in the kitchen

As we get older, the amount of light that reaches the retina decreases. Due to this, it is recommended that seniors increase ambient lighting levels by at least three to four times over younger individuals.

It is important therefore that abundant ambient lighting is used throughout the home so that it provides the user with sufficient visibility.

In order to increase ambient lighting, more light fixtures can be placed around the home which can include table lamps, ceiling-mounted lights, recessed lights, track lights etc. Mirrors can also be used to reflect natural light around the room although be careful to avoid glare.

8. Ensure Thresholds are Adequately Illuminated

Illuminated Steps

Senior eyes may suffer with reduced contrast sensitivity and depth perception which can increase the risk of dangerous falls. Users may struggle to spot certain thresholds around the home such as stairs, ramps and doorways as they may be unable to detect subtle differences in patterns and colors.

In order to reduce the risk of such falls, avoid using low contrast patterns on particular thresholds around the home. For example, avoid using the same shade or colored carpet on the stairs as well as the landing and stay away from busy patterns. Opt instead for contrasting colors that stand out from the background. Use colored fluorescent tape or paint the edges of steps to make them stand out more.

Appropriate lighting can also be used on stairs, doorways and kerbs such as LED strip lighting which is motion activated which is simple to install and can prove effective as shown below.

9. Use Smart Lighting

Having to regularly get up to turn the lights on or off can be a real struggle for anyone with impaired mobility. Smart lighting can prove particularly useful for anyone with mobility or visual impairments so it is ideally suited for senior users.

With smart lighting, you can control your lighting directly from your smartphone and if connected to a smart hub such as an Amazon Alexa or Google Home, you can use voice commands to turn your lighting on without ever needing to get up.

Smart bulbs such as the ones from Philips Hue are easy to install and set-up. Simply screw the bulbs into a lamp or lighting device and then connect the supplied hub to your Wi-Fi network. Finally, install the app on your smartphone and follow the simple instructions in order to complete the set-up.

With the Philips Hue bulbs, you can set-up lighting schedules. You can for example programme the lights to turn on automatically when you wake up in the morning as well as scheduling them to turn off before you go to bed. You can also control your lighting remotely, which is ideal if you’re on vacation but still want your home to appear occupied to ward off any potential intruders.

You can brighten and dim the bulbs as well as control the intensity and color (16 million colors) to suit your particular mood. Another handy feature is you can set-up the color of the lighting to automatically alter throughout the day to support your natural body clock. For example, in the morning you can have a cooler lighting that will help you to wake up and feel energized. As the day progresses, the lighting can change to a more relaxing warmer light that will help to make you feel restful in the evening before going to sleep.

10. Use a Light Box/Light Therapy

Light therapy

Receiving sufficient light throughout the day is vital in helping to regulate our circadian rhythm (internal body clock). Our circadian clock helps to regulate everything from sleeping and waking cycles, cognitive functions, to our temperature and blood pressure.

circadian rhythm

Lack of exposure to light can have a detrimental effect on our circadian clock. This can lead to disruptions in sleep, cause depression and seasonal affective disorders (SAD) as well as impairing our cognitive abilities.

A problem that many seniors face, especially ones with impaired mobility, is they do not receive enough natural light due to spending long hours indoors. Visual impairments such as cataracts can also reduce the amount of light entering the eye which can cause further disruption to the body’s internal body clock. For these reasons, seniors usually require more natural light than their younger counterparts.

Light therapy, can prove particular beneficial for seniors who may not receive sufficient natural light. Studies have shown that light therapy can decrease depression in older adults as well as improve behavioural and sleep disturbances in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (source).

When selecting a light therapy lamp also known as a light box, it is recommended that you choose one with 10,000 lux. Lux refers to the intensity of the light that the lamp emits. A 10,000 lux lamp emulates the effects of a bright sunny day.

The following 10,000 lux light box from Circadian Optics is simple to use and is well-designed has 3 levels allowing you to customize the brightness to suit your needs.

In order to use a light therapy lamp, place it at a 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position while sitting down and use it for 20 to 60 minutes in the morning depending on your particular needs (always refer to the manufacturer instructions regarding safe use).

11. Use Nightlights to Prevent Falls

If you frequently need to get up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom, you should think about installing nightlights. Nightlights are designed to provide sufficient light so that you can safely navigate around the home without having to fumble in the dark helping to prevent trips and falls.

They are simple to install and require no additional wiring. They can be used in hallways, cupboards, landings, stairs, bedrooms, bathrooms and anywhere else around the home that you may regularly frequent at night.

Choose a nightlight that has motion senior technology which will activate automatically when you’re in close proximity to it and will turn off after a set period of time which will prove more economical and is less likely to disrupt others. Plug-in nightlights are preferable over battery operated ones as you won’t need to worry about regularly replacing any batteries.

12. Use a Touch- Sensitive Bedside Lamp

Keep a bedside lamp next to your bed which allows you to read before going to sleep. Ensure the light provides enough brightness although make sure it is glare and flicker free. To prevent it from disrupting your circadian rhythm avoid using blue light instead use warmer lighting (2800 K – 3000 K) as this is less likely to suppress melatonin production and interfere with your sleep.

To avoid having to search for the bedside light switch in the dark, consider opting for a touch-sensitive light that can be operated by tapping the device. Touch-sensitive lights can prove particularly useful for anyone with reduced dexterity such as arthritis sufferers.

The following touch-sensitive bedside lamp allows you to modify the color temperature from 2800 k – 6500 K to suit your particular needs. Additionally, the brightness can also be controlled and there is a choice of 7 different colors to choose from.

13. Use Task Lighting to Prevent Eye-Strain

Whether you’re reading, carrying out craftwork, prepping some food in the kitchen or performing some other type of close-up work, you will often find that general or ambient lighting may not be adequate for the particular task that you’re performing if you suffer with a visual impairment.

In such occasions, it is advisable that you use appropriate task lighting that will provide you with a more intense and concentrated light source so that you can carry out close-up work more easily and thus helping to reduce eye-strain.

When deciding on an appropriate task lighting, ascertain what specific activities you will need it for. Do you simply need it to help you read, sew, prep food, or do you need it to help you to apply your make-up while in the bathroom? This will allow you to decide on the best type of task lighting to purchase, whether that be table-top, wall-mounted or freestanding.

Choose task lighting that is adjustable which will allow you to orient the light source to precisely where you need it to ensure the area is sufficiently illuminated helping to reduce eye-strain as well as glare.

Look for task lights that can be dimmed so you can control the level of brightness. Some devices also allow you to alter the color temperature to suit the particular task that you’re performing. The LED desk lamp below for example has 6 color modes, allowing you to change the temperature from a warm white to daylight white.

If you carry detailed work on a regular basis such as painting, sewing or model building consider opting for a magnifying task light that has a built-in magnifying glass like the one shown below. This will allow you to carry out more intricate work with ease.

14. Keep a Flashlight Handy In-Case of Emergencies

Ensure you always have a couple of spare battery-operated handheld flashlights around the home to avoid getting caught by a power outage.

You don’t want to find out in the middle of night when you need to go to bathroom that due to a power failure you’re unable to put any lights on.

15. Use Appropriate Lighting in the Bathroom

The bathroom is the most dangerous place in the home for seniors. 79% of all falls occur in the bathroom.

Poor lighting in the bathroom can hide potential trip and slip hazards such as wet floors. Use adequate lighting throughout the bathroom that is both bright and glare-free. Use task lighting in key areas including the shower/bathtub, toilet and washbasin.

Use a wall-mounted vanity mirror that is illuminated over the washbasin so that grooming tasks such as shaving, brushing your teeth or applying make-up can be carried out with ease. Choose a vanity-mirror that has dimmable lighting so that the light intensity can be adjusted to suit your particular needs.

16. Keep Outdoor Spaces Illuminated

Having adequate lighting outside is just as important as having good indoor lighting. Not only can it assist with your own personal safety and improve aesthetics but it can also help secure your home.

Use task lighting in entrances such as next to the front door, by the garage and side doors. Use lighting that comes on with a timer and is with fitted with a passive infrared sensor (PIR) which is activated when it senses any movement thus saving you money as well as deterring any would-be intruders.

Ensure steps and stairways are properly illuminated by using step lights or recess lighting to help prevent slips and falls when going up or down stairs in the dark.

For garden pathways and walkways, use path lights which can be used along the driveway or lining a pathway. Solar path lights are not only cost effective as they do not use any electricity, but they are also simple to install as they do not require any wiring.

Avoid harsh lighting such as a bright spotlight in locations where you regularly socialize such as decking, lawn and patio areas. Use ambient lighting with warmer lighting (less than 3000 K) which will provide a more subtle and relaxing feel and reduce the amount of glare and won’t prove so distracting. 

Use ascent lighting to help highlight and complement particular items in the garden such as shrubbery, trees, and flowers which will help to make the garden look more appealing in the evening.

Ensure you choose lighting that has been designed specifically for outdoor use and which can withstand the elements and is resistant to corrosion.

Ensure your use outdoor lighting (electrical, battery, solar) that has at least an IP (Ingress Protection) rating of at least 65. Ingress Protection refers the level of protection the light fitting provides against moisture and dust. The higher the number, the better protected it will be against water and dust. Always speak to an expert if you’re unsure whether it suitable for outdoor use.

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