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April 2017

Terry K. McGowan, FIES, LC

ALA Director of 
Engineering & Technology

New Information About
Lighting for Older Eyes

As the elderly population continues to grow in North America, so does the research that seeks to improve the health and the quality of life of the many who not only live longer, but also work to adapt and maintain an active lifestyle. Lighting is part of living no matter what age a person is, and we have learned some new things about how lighting should be applied and designed for older people whether they choose to continue to work,  "age-in-place" in their homes or move to retirement facilities.
There are now contractors who specialize in remodeling homes to help elderly people live more comfortably  ΜΆ   a lighting opportunity. Additionally, a growing variety of products, including lighting, are designed to fit the needs of older eyes and for those whose activities are limited .
Since I started reporting to you on this subject, I have been pleased to hear from ALA manufacturers, showrooms and designers who have expanded their products and services to respond to the needs of this demographic .

A few years ago the message was simple: As eyes age, they need more light and less glare in order to maintain the same level of comfort and visual performance. Now, we know more and the message is more complicated, but the benefits have also multiplied as research findings have been translated into practical lighting recommendations.
The results of the new research is now incorporated into a new recommended lighting practice and ANSI standard written by the IES that was released late last year. The title is, "Lighting and the Visual Environment for Seniors and the Low Vision Population" (RP-28-16).
A summary of a few of the findings and recommendations:
  • Vision problems increase rapidly as people reach their 70s, rising from around 2% to between 10-15% as people reach 80. There is significant variation by race and ethnicity.
  • Illuminance levels in important areas such as the bathroom have been increased. At a sink, for example, the recommended illuminance on the horizontal surface is 50 footcandles (fc), roughly double the 15-30 fc recommended for younger eyes.
  • Lighting controls are more important for older people who may have to adjust their lighting more frequently for visibility as well as to minimize glare.
  • The glare sensitivity of older people is more than four times higher than that of young people and double that of 40 year olds.
  • Light sources that flicker are always bad, but flicker from LED sources may be more apparent because of driver or dimmer characteristics. There are new LED flicker metrics in development, but to minimize flicker problems, the recommendations suggest avoiding pulse width modulation (PWM) dimming and checking LED driver specifications to ensure less than 10% flicker at 120 Hz. Considering people vary in their sensitivity to flicker, 4% flicker or less is considered safe for virtually all people. 
  • Because of increased glare sensitivity, sconces and chandeliers using exposed lamps should not be mounted close to or at eye level.
  • Older eyes are more comfortable when room surfaces are relatively uniform in brightness. Surfaces with higher reflectance help. For example, seniors will be more comfortable with walls reflecting 70% of the light rather than walls at 50% reflectance, and with ceilings with reflectances of 75-90%.
  • Portables used for reading or hand work should have translucent shades to help keep room illuminances in balance.
  • Lights that are mounted close to the floor and shielded are recommended for safe walking at night; additionally, if installed on stairs and throughout a house, they may also serve as critical egress lighting in fire situations where smoke may obscure ceiling mounted lights.
  • Remotely controlled shades and diffusing skylights help to control glare and maintain comfortable brightness balances as sun and sky lighting change during the day.
  • Task lights for reading should be able to provide 100 fc or more on the page and surrounding area. This level was found to be the most preferred in rooms with normal ambient lighting according to a research study involving older adults.
  • A new role for lighting in bedrooms is helping to maintain strong circadian rhythms, which depend upon the light color, intensity, duration and timing. Controls, especially smart lighting controls, can be set to provide lighting "recipes" that match a person's circadian requirements throughout the home.
I will be reviewing more of this material at an ALA seminar scheduled for Wednesday, June 21, at the Dallas Market .


Sponsored by:
Terry McGowan, FIES, LC
Director of Engineering & Technology