Improving lighting to help prevent falls in the home

Lighting is often a major contributor to preventable indoor falls for older adults. As we age, poor lighting situations that may not have posed a problem at a younger age are now a potential risk. These may include poorly lit corridors or rooms, or nighttime trips from the bed to the bathroom. The physiological changes include:

  • Less light gets to retina (1/3 to 1/5 compared to younger people)
  • More sensitivity to glare
  • Slower adaptation to changes in lighting
  • Diseases: cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
  • Lack of contrast sensitivity, less fine detail
  • General yellowing that affects sensitivity to blue and violet color hues

To facilitate aging in place, there are many modifications that can help combat these changes, from the simple to the more complex. First, it’s important to understand that more lighting does not necessarily mean better lighting. Color temperatures, placement, and intensity all affect whether additional lighting is a benefit or hindrance. Improvements can be broken up into two applications: ambient lighting and task lighting.

Ambient lighting

Since older adults have more sensitivity to glare and slower responses times to changes in lighting levels, it is important to provide even, consistent lighting in rooms and corridors. Experts suggest about 30 fc (footcandles) or 30 lumens/ft2 for these environments. Here are some general guidelines to get you started:

  1. Use indirect lighting to create a more diffused lighting source and prevent glare. Place lights close to the ceiling and ensure LEDs or bulbs are concealed from direct view. Avoid halogen bulbs which can easily cause glare.
  2. Seek light sources with a color rendering of at least 80 to combat yellowing vision. Phosphor-coated LEDs can help provide a warmer color.
  3. Even during the day, glare can be caused by direct sunlight through windows. Install blinds and curtains.
  4. Be mindful of how lighting affects our natural rhythms and general well-being. Experts suggest higher blue light levels during the morning hours, slight intensity dimming in the afternoon turning to reddish light levels in the evening.
  5. Too much light in the evening can disturb melatonin levels and disrupt sleep patterns, which is troubling for older adults already prone to poor sleep. At night, take advantage of nightlights and bounce lighting off the floor to illuminate a path instead of using brighter top-down lighting.
  6. Lighting connected to motion sensors and ambient lighting levels are a great and inexpensive addition, especially at night to illuminate paths to the bathroom. Additionally, dimmers can provide extra control for any occasion and throughout the day, and they are inexpensive.

Task lighting

Task lighting should supplement ambient lighting by providing more direct intensity to activities such as reading, cooking, eating, or sewing. LEDs are particularly useful since they provide direct and intense lighting in a small and lightweight package while consuming very little power and generating little heat, compared to traditional bulbs. Here are some suggestions for task lighting:

  1.  Install LED light strips under cabinets and over countertops.
  2. Consider swing-arm LED lights placed next to bed, tables, or reading chairs. Be careful to mitigate any potential glare by placing the light below eye level and focused on the task.

Luvozo is developing products and solutions to mitigate fall risks in the home and senior living communities. Contact us today to learn how we can make your community safer and prevent falls.