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interview with long-term care designer, Margaret P. Calkins, Ph.D., president of IDEAS, Inc., and board chair of the IDEAS Institute, addresses the importance of lighting.

The article suggests that in order to self-test a building’s lighting, try wearing a pair of sunglasses smeared with a little petroleum jelly or lip balm. Then spend three hours walking around or, even better, sitting in a wheelchair, to experience the environment as older residents do. Noticing glares, having difficulty recognizing faces or reading signs, and getting a headache or tired eyes are all indicators that the building’s lighting probably needs to be updated.

Calkins offered practical recommendations on lighting improvement during the interview for Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management.

When asked why she feels that lighting is such an important quality-of-life issue in long-term care settings, Calkins explained that as people age, changes in vision occur that affect the ability to perceive and understand the world around them. “For instance, there are normal age-related changes in the pupils (less light can enter the eye), the eyes’ accommodation speed decreases (it takes longer for eyes to transition to different light levels), and color perception weakens (yellowing of the lens makes it difficult to distinguish greens from blues).”

She also notes that older eyes become more sensitive to glare-both direct glare (from a directly visible lighting source, such as an unshielded bulb) and indirect glare (a consequence of bright light bouncing off reflective surfaces, such as shiny floors). “Compounding the problem is that many older adults develop diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts,” Calkins adds.

To address the visual challenges of seniors, new technologies have been applied to long-term care lighting. Calkins says that metal halide bulbs are probably the hottest new technology in lighting for older adults. Also, a number of remote and automatic-sensing systems are available, although not widely used. She explains, “These include motion sensors that automatically turn lights on when someone enters a room. The problem is that they also automatically turn lights off if no movement is detected within a certain period of time. Consequently, they are best used in rooms or areas, such as bathrooms or utility rooms, where people don’t spend too much time.”

Other technologic advances include voice-command light switches, which are available through many home technology catalogs, but are not widely used in long-term care facilities as yet.

According to Calkins, one of the most common lighting problems that can be easily and affordably corrected is replacing those switch plates that are the same color or pattern as the walls. “Often they are covered in the same wallpaper to provide continuity with the wall. These switch plates become virtually invisible to anyone with any vision loss. By color contrasting the switch plates with the walls, it makes them easier for older adults to locate.”

She also suggests paying close attention to the location of switches. “Obviously they should be positioned low enough for someone seated in a wheelchair to reach easily. Double-switching fixtures so they can be turned on from several locations in the room can also give an older person more control over the lighting in his or her environment.”

As technology advances, Calkins envisions the day when lights will not be hardwired to switches, thus allowing greater flexibility in locating switches to suit different users’ preferences.

CAPS designated remodelers like Home Evolutions can include the latest lighting technologies (like some of the ones suggested during this interview) into your home renovations in order to achieve all of your aging-in-place needs.

Read more about this story in the next and upcoming issue of The Forever Home!

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