Simple Home Modifications
for Safety & Comfort
Vision issues can seem to take center stage as we get older. As we age, we require 2 – 3 times as much light in order to see as well as we did in our younger years. Deteriorating vision affects our comfort, our ability to perform tasks, and our safety. Fortunately, home lighting makeovers and remodels can incorporate simple modifications that improve the lives of seniors and the visually impaired.
Here in Maine, residential living establishments, remodeling companies, and homeowners are responding to these needs by putting better vision into clearer focus. Laura Vittorioso, Certified Low Vision Therapist at the Iris Network, has witnessed recent changes taking place in local living spaces. She cites Huntington Commons in Kennebunk, which has replaced its ceiling fixtures in the hallways with brighter, whiter light, as one community that has made vision a priority. Avesta’s 409 Cumberland Avenue in Portland, too, has incorporated new, improved general lighting in its common areas and apartments. It’s no surprise that a growing population of homeowners planning for independence as they age are following suit by planning some illuminating changes for their own homes.
Lighting for Living
Simple changes can be transformative, and that’s true for lighting improvements. Vittorioso’s work at the Iris Network involves helping people who are visually impaired or blind attain and maintain their independence in their home. Often, these changes begin in the kitchen. First, replacing all lighting with dimmable, anti-glare, higher wattage bulbs is a priority. Recessed lights — cylinder-shaped lights inserted into the ceilings or under cabinets and placed strategically to illuminate common work spaces — is a first choice for lighting remodels. Incorporating stove-top lighting is also critical, both for performing tasks and for safety.
Task lighting combined with proper ambient light, Vittorioso said, can make a major difference for those with vision impairment. “Ceiling lights in all rooms so that one isn’t walking into a dark bedroom for example, fumbling for a lamp,” she said, is a household necessity. She also recommends lighting over the tub and shower area, another often overlooked area of the home.
Lighting for Safety
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of Americans aged 65 and over experiences a fall each year. Health problems increase falling risk and make tripping or loss of balance more frequent. In the home, where most falls occur, keeping light uniform and lighting darker areas is a simple but often overlooked safety measure. For those with vision challenges, adapting to changes in lighting is more difficult, affecting balance and leading to falls. Easy-on lighting for the bottom of the stairs, for example, and ensuring all lights are brighter and easy to access – in bathrooms, beside beds, in exterior spaces such as garages, paths and porches – can dramatically lessen falling risks.
When it comes to aging eyes, other simple changes can go a long way to help prevent falls. “Contrast sensitivity fades with age,” said Vittorioso, “so it’s important to highlight stair treads, door jambs, cabinets against walls, and switch plates, for example.” Lighting remodels can also include placing light switches lower, adding switches at the entrances of homes and hallways, adding group control lights, adding receptacles with multiple bulbs, or replacing traditional switches with rocker-style switches to make turning on lights easier.
Find more information on preventing falls by using good lighting techniques, and information about home modification.
When it comes to lighting the home, Vittorioso is quick to say that natural light is best. Not only does natural light mean better sight, it can improve health and state of mind. It is especially important for seniors who tend to go outside less. Natural light also means natural heat, providing cost savings, especially here in the Northeast. A natural lighting remodel can cut expenses in other ways as well, by creating a feeling of expansion without the expense of adding space.
When it comes to adding natural light to the home, remodeling experts have an array of options in their toolbox. Homeowners may consider extending existing windows toward the floor and ceiling, adding sidelights or skylights, or installing windows above the kitchen sink, in a bathroom (natural light near mirrors is a welcome addition for elderly eyes), or in a stairway, if possible. French or glass doors can open up a home to natural light, as can eliminating non-weight bearing walls to allow natural light to penetrate the house. Those making changes should be sure to plan for adjustable blinds for their new light sources – with natural light comes glare, something aging eyes are sensitive to.
Try these lighting tips for seniors.
Aging-in-Place & Vision
Vision has become a central focus for homeowners planning to live independently or families welcoming a parent or relative. Homeowners can start the process of creating a comfortable, accommodating home by discussing services and support from local organizations like the Iris Network. For those planning home modifications, consider asking if your local remodeling company has a certified aging-in-place specialist on staff. Aging-in-place specialists are a designation of the National Association of Home Builders, and they are trained in aging-in-place home modifications for the residential remodeling industry. They’ll help you through the process of creating a more liveable, well-lit space. Your eyes will thank you.
Lighting Resources for Seniors & Visually Impaired
Spectrum Generations (Aging in Place)
Leveraging Lighting Innovations
Not long ago, The Clapper, which turned lights on and off with a clap, represented the newest in lighting technology. The Clapper is still in use (you can buy it most anywhere) but today more lighting innovations have penetrated the market. The ease and affordability of occupancy lighting has contributed to its demand in new and remodeled homes. Occupancy lighting uses lighting sensors to automatically light a room when a person enters, and shut lights off after they leave. This smart-home accessory can be helpful for a home where seniors or those with Alzheimer’s or dementia live, and anyone who enjoys its convenience and energy efficiency.