Just as it’s a good idea to adapt other parts of the house to accommodate the needs of older adults who want to age in place, it’s also best to upgrade the lighting in the home to make it a safer, more comfortable place to live. Here are some tips to help you create a safer home with better lighting, based on research by the American Society of Interior Designers and the Illuminating Engineering Society.
Throughout the House
- Provide more ambient light. As people age, they tend to need brighter light, but it should also be glare-free. Points of light—such as exposed bulbs—cause glare, so all light sources should have shades or be concealed.
- Light levels should be consistent from one area to the next. Avoid situations where a brightly lighted area blends into a darker area, as this can be dangerous for older adults to navigate.
- A contrasting color scheme makes it easier for those with age-related vision problems to see shapes. Avoid monochromatic color schemes.
- Opt for silent lighting fixtures – avoid those that flicker or have a humming sound.
- Make the most of natural light. Remove heavy drapes and shades from windows. If it’s within your budget and makes design sense, have additional windows and skylights installed.
- Provide uniform lighting from hanging fixtures, wall sconces and recessed lighting.
- Use table or floor lamps near seating areas for reading or other activities, such as sewing.
- Place TVs and computers so that their screens don’t reflect light from lighting fixtures or windows.
- Lighting is just as critical in bedrooms. Jennifer Ballard, Chief Clinical Officer at Interim Health Care, Inc. recommends taking these steps to ensure safety: “Add a light that can be reached lying down. Use motion-sensor night lights that will ensure the path from the bedroom to the bathroom is well lit. Store flashlights in easy-to-find places in case the power goes out, and get a desk phone with large, backlit numbers.”
- Hanging or ceiling-mounted fixtures can provide general lighting. If there’s space above the wall cabinets, fluorescent or LED strip lighting can be installed there to reflect off of the ceiling.
- Provide dedicated task lighting at all work areas, including counters, sinks and cooking appliances. Shielded under-cabinet lights make good task lighting. “Task lighting is especially important over the stove and over the kitchen counters when preparing food, as well as anywhere that a senior would be managing their medication,” adds Ballard.
- Consider installing a contrasting edge on the countertop, contrasting inserts in the counter or even contrasting cutting boards placed on the counter. They’ll make the surfaces easier to see and safer to use.
- Place a hanging fixture equipped with a dimmer over the table—the same goes for dining room tables. The light can be dimmed for dining and increased when someone is sitting at the table for an activity that requires more light, like paying bills, writing out grocery lists or using a laptop computer.
- General lighting should be bright and glare-free. If possible, place light switches outside of the bathroom so that the senior does not need to enter a dark room and try to find a light switch.
- Place vanity lights on the sides of the bathroom mirror at about eye level.
- Make bathtubs and showers safer by installing light fixtures designed for wet locations in the ceiling above the fixture.
- Provide safety for people who need to use the bathroom at night. Light the path to the bathroom and the room itself, and use fixtures on dimmers or nightlights so that the person using it does not have to adjust to a brightly lit bathroom from a dark hall or bedroom. LED rope lights installed along the bottom of a vanity make good night lights.
Fran Donegan writes for The Home Depot on topics ranging from gardening to home improvement tips for seniors. He provides guidance on the best types of lighting seniors can use for different tasks. To see a selection of lighting and ceiling fan options, head to Home Depot's website.