I Can See Clearly Now- Lighting for Safety, Security, and Mental Health

by Bruce Montgomery Ph.D. February 29, 2016

I Can See Clearly Now- Lighting for Safety, Security, and Mental Health

Vision loss among the elderly is a major health care problem. Approximately one person in three has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. The most common causes of vision loss among the elderly are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract and diabetic retinopathy (Quillen, 1999).

According to the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/lightHealth/AARP/healthcare/lightingOlderAdults/lightingPrinciples.asp, you can improve senior safety and mobility by the following:

  • Increase light levels - The light levels in living environments used by older adults should be increased by at least two or three times over those comfortable for younger people.
    • Higher wattage bulbs in conjunction with dimmers to control the light
    • Use adjustable task lights to increase light levels in these areas.
    • Use night lights that are motion or light sensitive
    • Use motion detectors outside the home to offer light at night and to provide security
    • Purchase a 10,000 Lux SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) Lamp – Ensure that you comply with all manufacturer instructions. Check with your physician before using a SAD lamp!
  • Minimize glare - Although more light is required for the older eye to see better, glare should be avoided.
    • Opaque blinds, shades, or curtains are important for minimizing glare from windows.
  • Increase contrast - Because contrast sensitivity is reduced with age, the visibility of important objects, such as edges of stairs, ramps, and doorways, can be greatly improved by increasing their contrast with paint or similar techniques.
    • Painting the bathroom doorframe a dark color to contrast with white walls will greatly improve its visibility.
    • Purchasing dark placemats to contrast with white china will have a similar effect.
  • Balance light levels – Balance light levels in transitional spaces such as hallways and entrance foyers with those of the adjacent spaces. Create intermediate light levels in transitional spaces that lead from bright to dim areas. This will enable older adults to adapt more completely as they move the different spaces.
  • Improve color perception - Color discrimination is poorer for older adults. High light levels and high-quality fluorescent tubes will help older adults see colors well, and even better than with conventional incandescent light bulbs.

QUILLEN, M.D., DAVID A. “Common Causes of Vision Loss in Elderly Patients.” Am Fam Physician. 1999 Jul 1; 60(1):99-108.

In addition to these suggestions, you should also ensure that controls and switches for lights are in convenient locations. For example, consider installing three-way switches at the top and bottom of stairs and each end of a hallway. Also consider motion sensors to automatically turn lights on and off when someone enters spaces such as stairways, hallways and closets.

Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.
Bruce Montgomery Ph.D.


Dr. Bruce Montgomery is a licensed building contractor in Michigan and Florida. He is a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist as designated by the National Association of Home Builders. He has also achieved an Executive Certificate in Home Modification from the University of Southern California. He has a wide ranging educational background, including a Master of Science degree in Entomology, with a Master of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in educational administration.