Michael Chotiner

Seniors need a lot more light to see well than younger people, but paradoxically, they’re more prone to experiencing bright lights as glaring. Vision impairments typical in the elderly affect their wellbeing and safety in many ways: Inadequate lighting hampers depth perception, which can lead to dangerous falls. Stark shadows that occur as a result of bright, direct lights can cause confusion and unsure footing.

Geriatric ophthalmologists have a number of terms for distinct causes and effects of glare that seniors typically experience: Dazzling glare can occur when an individual looks directly at intensely a bright light source, such as the filament of an incandescent bulb or a halogen light. Scotomatic glare occurs when the eye is overloaded with light, as from a camera flash, and the individual sees an afterimage. Veiling glare occurs when stray light hits the retina uniformly, causing a distracting reflection, as when the dome light inside a car reflects off the windshield on a dark night.

Be that as it may, all of these types of glare can be mitigated with lighting and interior design choices that take seniors’ special vulnerabilities into account. The following recommendations for creating glare-reduced environments are compiled from experts with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Interior Designers, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America  and the International Association of Lighting Designers.

  • Provide high levels of light within each spacing fixture to ensure that light is uniform throughout.

  • Provide a “transition zone” with medium-bright lighting in areas where residents must pass from a brightly lit space to a more dimly lit space.

  • Provide as much natural light as possible. If skylights are specified, they should be fitted with partially obscure glazing rather than clear glass or plastic to prevent glare effects.

  • Reduce the potential for direct and reflected glare wherever possible by specifying flat or satin floor and wall finishes rather than gloss or semi-gloss. Avoid shiny metals and metallic paints.

  • Position television sets and computer monitors away from light sources that produce reflected glare.

  • Provide multiple layers of light in spaces where appropriate with ambient light, task lights and a bit of accent lighting, as long as accents won’t produce direct glare.

  • Use indirect lighting (e.g., cove-type fixtures, lighted valences, wall washers, floor lamps and torchieres) wherever possible to produce high levels of ambient light.

  • If wall sconces are used, the light source should be well shielded from direct view.

  • Task lights for reading, writing, sewing and the like should be positioned above and behind the individual wherever possible and offer light levels of varied brightness (such as with three-way bulbs). Be sure that task light sources are well shielded with opaque shades or louvers.

  • Avoid specifying light fixtures with bright lenses or shiny louvers.

  • Avoid fixtures with bare or exposed lightbulbs.

Use these tips and techniques to evaluate the environment that you’re providing for your residents and any plans for proposed upgrades. Applying glare-reduction design principles won’t only help residents see better — it may keep them on their feet.

Michael Chotiner has many years of experience working with lighting and lamp placements, both as a cabinet maker and a general construction contractor. He writes for Home Depot. To learn more about floor lamps at Home Depot, click here.