A Light for Old Eyes – 3 Ways Light Can Help

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

A Light for Old Eyes 3 Ways Light Can Help

As people get older, their eyes change. Fine print becomes harder to read, the glare from oncoming car headlights becomes more objectionable, and certain colors lose their vibrancy. Some eye changes are inevitable. The lens of the eye yellows with age, which may actually have a protective effect on the retina by filtering out short wavelength light, a cause of macular degeneration. It takes longer to adjust to darkness as you age, too. The muscles of the iris control the size of the pupil. Unfortunately, with age, those iris muscles take a little longer to do their job, so it takes longer for older people to adapt to dark or bright environments. Floaters in the eye can range from distracting to debilitating. Besides these general conditions of aging, there are many other specific eye diseases that can impact older eyes, including macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.

What can we do to help?

  1. More Light
    Task Light

    One solution for aging eyes is to provide more light. This would be the perfect solution except that it directly contradicts strict energy codes. A more energy efficient option is to provide adequate task lighting. Task lights are most comfortable if they are below eye level (to reduce glare) and on the left hand side for a right-handed person (to reduce shadows.) Another place to remember task lights is in the bathroom. A light in the shower, and lights on both sides of the mirror (with a light colored countertop to reflect fill light back up under the chin) are important task lights for grooming.

    Transitional Light

    To accommodate slower eye adaptation, keep lighting levels similar from room to room, and be aware of indoor to outdoor transitions. Keep entry spaces bright during the daytime and less bright at night.

    Night Lights

    Night-lights are an easy and important way to prevent falls. Current research is quite focused on the color of the light that reaches eyes during the night; so to be safest, use a red night-light. Blue wavelength (including white) light can interfere with melatonin production if viewed during nighttime hours.

  2. Glare Control
    Avoid bare lamps, clear lamps, exposed LED arrays, clear glass lenses, and shiny polished surfaces. All of these can be a source of glare! Better choices are indirect sources, frosted lamps, shaded lamps, frosted lenses, and matte floors, tiles, and countertops.
  3. Contrast
    One of the most important tools for improving visual acuity isn’t necessarily a lighting tool at all. Use contrast to define edges. If walls, floors, and furnishings are all light or white, that’s a great thing for increased reflectance values and better light levels. However, a bit of contrast can actually help us see better. This contrast is best provided with a color change. Lighting can be installed along a cabinet base or stair tread to increase contrast as well.

Let’s give older eyes the help they need by providing more light where it is needed, eliminating glare, and providing adequate contrast to define edges. If your eyes aren’t “old” yet, it’s just a matter of time…

For more information, check out this great guide produced by the Illuminating Engineering Society!

Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


The opinions expressed by authors herein and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Graybar Electric Company, Inc. or any employee thereof. Graybar Electric Company, Inc. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the authors or commenters. All the information on this website is published in good faith and for general information purpose only. Graybar Electric Company, Inc. does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information you find on this website http://www.graybar.com/applications/lighting/blog, is strictly at your own risk. Graybar Electric Company, Inc. will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with the use of our website.