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Home lighting for aging eyes

Posted Sunday, March 5, 2006

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We may get wiser as we get older, but we also have a harder time “seeing the light” – literally. At age 60, most people need four times more light to see as well as they did when they were 20. Fortunately, the lighting industry offers a wide range of design-friendly options to satisfy the needs of senior eyes.

“As we age, our corneas begin to develop layers like an onion,” says Dan Blitzer, a continuing educator for the American Lighting Association. “These layers absorb more of the light coming into our eyes, so less light reaches the retina and its light receptors. Also, the lenses in our eyes develop tiny fissures that tend to capture more blue light, so what gets through to the retina is more light waves in the yellow spectrum. The net result is that as people get older, they get less light from their environment.”

The experts agree that replacing all your 60 watt bulbs with 100 watt bulbs probably won’t solve the problem, and could even be a safety concern if you put a 100 watt bulb in a fixture not rated for it.

You don’t have to completely remodel your house to see well. Lighting solutions can be tailored to fit your unique lighting issues, budget and structure of your house. ALA experts Blitzer and Monty Gilbertson, a certified lighting consultant with Lighting Designs by Wettstein’s, offer the following tips on lighting your home for the aging eye:

Lighting Your Kitchen, Bed and Bath

Kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms are areas where people generally want more light as they get older, Blitzer says. For kitchens, Gilbertson suggests under cabinet lights. These can be as simple as fluorescent tubes hidden under the cabinets to direct the maximum amount of high-quality light down onto the countertops where you will be preparing meals. This solution requires minimal construction.

In the bath, avoid fluorescents, Gilbertson advises. Instead, opt for 100 percent color rendering light bulbs, positioned on either side of your bathroom mirror. Consider installing a dimmer on bathroom lights. Research shows that very low-level regular light, or light in the red spectrum, maximizes night vision while minimizing the disruption of our circadian rhythm, Blitzer says.

Use Track and Recessed Lighting

Another option for your kitchen is to install recessed lights overhead, just in front of the cabinets. This allows the maximum light to fall on both your work area, as well as inside the cabinets when the door is open, Gilbertson notes. Recessed lighting can be effective anywhere in the house that you require more light. But, cautions Blitzer, be sure the face of the bulb is installed well above the ceiling to eliminate glare. “Glare is a serious issue for older eyes,” he notes.

Track lighting is also a good solution for putting light exactly where you need it most. Modern track lighting is available in a wide range of design-friendly styles, including flexible tracks and beautiful pendant lights.

Use Portables when Remodeling is not Practical

Not everyone is able or willing to completely remodel their home. Fortunately, many portable lighting options are available. For example, if you like to read in your favorite easychair in front of the fire, consider a torchiere that bounces light off the ceiling to create a glare-free environment. Or a floor lamp with a movable arm might be more to your taste. Hobbyists can clamp a portable light right onto their work table, Gilbertson suggests.

In the bedroom, installing a headboard with built-in reading lights is less costly than a remodel, yet more flexible than a simple lamp on your bedside table. Blitzer points out that the light (and its controls) can be installed in the center of the headboard, so that the light shines directly on the reader and not on the sleeping partner. Further, if the reader falls asleep with the light on, the partner can turn off the light without climbing out of bed.

Take Control with Technology

Decreasing dexterity can also affect how well an aging person is able to use the lights in their home, Blitzer says. When choosing lighting controls, be sure to choose something that provides increased flexibility and safety.

Infrared remote controls simplify the task of turning lights on or off. Timers ensure you will never enter a dark house. Sensors that turn on lights when motion is detected can light your night-time route from the bedroom to the bathroom. “No one need be intimidated by this technology,” Blitzer says. “Modern lighting controls are easier to use than your VCR or cell phone!”

Courtesy of ARA Content

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