Catering to assisted senior living and active adult communities in your area is a mutually beneficial proposition.
The old saying “You can’t fool Mother Nature” certainly applies to the aging process. While modern medicine has allowed us to minimize the visible signs of aging with creams and procedures, our organs are another matter. When it comes to eyes, change happens slowly, but it is inevitable – and irreversible.
As we get older, the amount of light that reaches the retina is reduced, which affects more than just our ability to see. Mariana Figueiro, Ph.D., of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., explained during her seminar “Lighting for the Boomer Generation” at the recent American Lighting Association (ALA) Conference that light also impacts our Circadian system (which enables us to stay in sync with daylight and our solar day) as well as conveys information to our Perceptual system (affecting one’s gait as well as depth perception of stairs/floor surfaces and judging distance). In particular, these changes in perception are what causes falls, which leads to broken bones.
Age Increases, Vision Decreases
“By the time you are age 42 to 45, it’s hard not to need glasses for reading,” Figueiro pointed out. “You lose the ability to accommodate [the distance needed for reading] like you can in your 20s. Your arms aren’t long enough.” People start experiencing “normal” optical changes before reaching age 65, and neural (sensory) changes after that age.
Lighting specialists have a lot of solutions to offer Baby Boomers as they encounter these difficulties – however, most retailers have probably never realized how they can help improve this demographic’s quality of life. “Lighting can help with the optical changes – and not as much with the neural changes,” she states. “People over age 65 do not see strong colors like younger ones do; the [hues] look more subdued.” This is why you might see an elderly woman dressed in a distractingly bright color – like hot pink – and be unaware that it may be visually jarring to others.
During the aging process, our pupils get smaller and stay small, which reduces the amount of light that gets to the eye. “The lens becomes thicker and yellows. It absorbs more light and scatters [it]. This makes it hard to see objects crisply and sharply,” Figueiro commented.
Light also has an effect on our circadian rhythms. According to research conducted by Figueiro and her colleagues at the Lighting Research Center, the combination of reduced light reaching the back of the eye, a less active lifestyle, and dim indoor environments can lead to “earlier onset of sleepiness, early morning awakening, and increased daytime napping” for 33 percent of older people.
The research team also studied Alzheimer’s patients and any improvements they made as a result of a series of light therapy techniques. The team also delved into the consequences of poor sleep, which reportedly can cause memory problems; limited attention spans; poorer balance, leading to a greater risk for falls; higher rates for depression, anxiety, and death – and whether high CCT and short-wavelength light therapies can help stave off some of the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Better Lighting Can Help
Figueiro asked her ALA seminar audience, “How can we deliver the light [seniors] need without having them go through a lot of effort?” When it comes to outfitting rooms in assisted living centers, convalescent homes, rehab facilities, or the living quarters of elderly homeowners, some of the best methods are either plug-in or wireless. “Think of solutions that don’t require hiring an electrician for installation,” she explained.
One of the dangers affecting elderly people is their fitful sleep, which can lead to them getting up in the middle of the night and potentially suffering a fall. Figueiro participated in a pilot study that used circadian-tailored light to consolidate sleep patterns in people with dementia. In the study, lighting fixtures utilizing 9300K fluorescent lamps were placed in rooms to provide 400 lux at the eye. The research indicated that blue light was the most helpful in the morning to help people reset their body clocks. “You might not want to eat eggs under blue light, but we found that older people seemed to like the higher CCT light around 5000K – we used an aquarium light as an example – they slept more at night and were more awake during the day,” she stated.
Falling is a major issue for the elderly, whether they are residing in a facility or living at home, and proper lighting can help reduce incidents. “If you watch elderly people walking, where are they looking? Usually down at the ground,” Figueiro said. “You don’t want them to trip, but lighting can be used to give [additional] cues. Creating a horizontal-vertical pathway will help. Lighting isn’t just for vision [but also for orientation].” An example would be illuminating the area around a doorway. “Walking through shadows is difficult for an elderly person; balancing the illuminance levels makes it easier,” she remarked.
The pathway from bed to bathroom at night-time is critical. According to Figueiro, using warm levels of light will illuminate the way without bringing the person fully awake like a bluish light would do.
“I recommend using an amber color, only because the color red would be perceived as too alarming [to the person] for this application,” she advised. Night-light illumination that provides both visual [literally seeing the floor surface] and perceptual [doorways, depth] cues will reduce the chance of falling.
Sales Opportunities Abound
Whether your lighting store serves only end-consumers or a mix of residential and commercial clients, recognizing the need for good lighting for aging adults not only provides a valuable service to an under-served demographic but can also open up avenues for steady business among local assisted living facilities, convalescent centers, and active adult communities.
Becoming acquainted with the topic of aging eyes and how lighting can help will distinguish your store from the competition. Everyone has an elderly relative – some of whom are living at home with their adult children – and every town has a facility that counts the elderly among its residents. Consider promoting your expertise and the lighting solutions you offer by hosting a seminar at your store for consumers or for managers at these centers.
“[Propose] changing out the lighting in a community room of an assisted living center,” Figueiro suggested, in effort to improve their residents’ sleep-awake cycles as pointed out in the Lighting Research Center study. “Why not suggest handrail lighting for the facility that will help its elderly residents delineate borders [and navigate steps].” Glare is another problem senior citizens face, and using a diffuser on a fixture to minimize glare and reflectance on a kitchen countertop is another benefit.
Suggesting proper task lighting and color temperatures of ambient lighting are just one of a good lighting showroom’s strengths and differentiators. Perhaps create a section in your store that caters specifically to this clientele.
For more articles on Home Design, Lighting and Aging In place please see the following articles:
For more information on how the eyes change as we age, research can be found at the following organizations:
The National Eye Institute (www.nei.nih.gov/agingeye)
The American Lighting Association (www.americanlightingassoc.com)
The National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov)
California Lighting Technology Center (http://cltc.ucdavis.edu)
And a video presentation by Figueiro on this topic on The Lighting Research Center’s Web site (www.lrc.rpi.edu/resources)