Designing for the Aging Eye

An important impact of aging is the change that occurs to the eye that results in a reduction of pupil size, diminished ability to focus properly and the yellowing of the lenses. These are contributing factors to visual perception differences between the ages. The amount of light needed to see increases and the pupil’s ability to dilate decreases. It is as wearing sunglasses in dimly lit settings. Often frustrating is the feeling that the eyes don’t function as they once did and it takes longer to adapt from outdoor to indoor lighting. Generally seeing takes more time and concentration, partly because organizing the parts into a whole takes longer as well. The Alliance on Aging

Research reports that visual impairment is one of the top four reasons for a loss of independence among seniors. Consequently, spaces used by the elderly need to reflect sensitivity to these limited capabilities. Older persons require extra lighting and clever use of color to create contrasting surfaces for better depth perception. Designers must be mindful of smart techniques to make the space function well for this population. There are some key elements to good design for the aging eye. Very good lighting is critical, especially when used for tasks and in the bathroom. Adequate light levels and glare must always be considered.

Helpful suggestions include avoiding the use of shiny surfaces on furniture and floors; using frosted light fixtures and shades for chandeliers and tinting the glass of outdoor windows. Fluorescent lighting is a good choice because it has a blue cast that aids in color perception. Also indirect but ample lighting is a good solution. Natural lighting is wonderful for both vision and well-being. Lighting levels should be changed gradually from space to space, especially while entering a building from the brilliant sunlight.

Effective use of color is most often accomplished by a seasoned interior designer who knows color theory. Color can be used to help overcome visual handicaps for way-finding, special orientation, setting a mood or to enhance depth perception. Warmer colors are easier to see since blue light perception is diminished with age.

For this reason purple may appear red to an elderly eye. Layering of colors is also an important consideration. An example is to avoid purple on a red background as it could prove to be confusing. It is much easier to differentiate yellows, oranges and reds and the brighter the better but used in moderation. Using contrasting colors is very important in the aid of navigating spaces. Door frames, handrails and chair rails should be different colors from walls and trim. Bathroom doors should be differentiated from other doors for memory retention. Ceilings should be white.

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