Lighting Design for Seniors
January 9, 2013 - 11:24am
Eunice Noell-Waggoner advises about lighting design that respects seniors’ growing desire to “age in place.”
Eunice Noell-Waggoner

Residential Lighting: What lighting functionalities do we need for an aging population?
Eunice Noell-Waggoner
: The key words are quantity and quality. Let’s explore quality first. What a young person might describe as “sparkling,” an older person would describe as “glare” — enemy number one for aging eyes. So ”attractive” and ”functional” will have totally different meanings for your older customers. All light sources must be shielded with a shade or a diffuser — no exposed bulbs.

Quality of light includes even and consistent ambient light levels throughout the home with the addition of task lighting. The dramatic effect of high-contrast lighting won’t be appreciated by older people. A higher quantity of light is needed because only one-third to one-fifth of the light reaches the retina as compared to younger people.

RL: What output are we talking about? Is color important?
: What’s important to an older person is the amount of light in the space, measured in footcandles with a light meter. With a light meter, every showroom could become a mini lighting lab. The recommended light level for ambient light is 30fc — measured at 30 inches above the floor with the photocell of the light meter facing the ceiling. Measure the lighting in the showroom at different locations so your customers can experience what works best for them.

Color is now a very important topic. Scientific research over the last 12 years has brought a new understanding about the importance of having high levels of cool light, like daylight, during the day and low levels of warm amber light at night. Changing the color of light at night is needed to promote sleep. Older people have a high percentage of sleep disorders, so this is very important. The pathway to and from the bedroom and bathroom, and in the bathroom, must have night lighting that is amber.

RL: What opportunities exist to cater to aging eyes?
: The simple fact is that older eyes need more light. To provide the quality mentioned above, the lighting must be uniform, which means more lighting fixtures Downlights alone are not enough. Additional lighting must be provided to light the ceilings and walls. Think in terms of lighting the spatial volume, not just the floor. Using direct-indirect lighting is a common strategy in offices and commercial buildings — seniors would benefit from this same strategy.

Consider all the possibilities where lighting could be built on top of kitchen cabinets, above bookcases, inside cupboards. Adding more layers of light provides flexibility in a space and satisfies the demands of task lighting.

The best showroom, if space allows, has small vignettes of key areas of the home — kitchen counters, dining areas, bathrooms — with various lighting options so the customer can find the right combination that works for them.

RL: What are some do’s and don’ts for manufacturers?
: Think beyond single use. Re-think the dining table fixture. Seniors use the table to read the newspaper, pay bills, eat meals and occasionally entertain. LEDs make it possible to provide indirect up-light to light the space and additional down-light for reading tasks, while providing an elegant fixture to set the tone for the room. Incorporate LED amber night-lights into wall sconces and vanity lights with occupancy sensors or small astronomical timers to automatically turn the light on when needed.

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