Designing Vision-Friendly Living Environments
By Gordon Rovins, Director of Special Programs at Lighthouse Guild
It is important to pay attention to safety at home, especially for people with vision loss.
Aging and vision impairment increase the risk of falls and approximately one third of older people living in the community fall at least once a year according to Hopewell S, Adedire O, Copsey BJ, Boniface GJ, Sherrington C, Clemson L, et al. (2018).
Protruding objects, uneven floors and inadequate lighting can create hazardous environments. People with vision loss have to be able to safely navigate without fear of hitting or tripping over objects. A person should be able to orient him or herself using furniture or cues placed on walls, doors or counters to warn of hazards.
Low lighting levels are associated with increased fall risk and reduced visual performance. In a residential lighting study of seniors in New York City, nearly all of them lived with inadequate lighting levels. The darkest area was the bathroom floor and bathrooms are where almost 50 percent of all falls occur.
According to “Lighting Levels in the Dwellings of Homebound Older Adults, Journal of Housing for the Elderly, Vol. 18, No. 2.” More than half the participants did not use a nightlight or turn on a light when getting out of bed.
There are some key elements to help people with vision loss feel in control and safe at home.
People should keep spaces free of obstacles or clutter that may be a trip hazard; remove protruding objects from walls; move furniture away from main traffic areas; push chairs completely under tables; check for uncovered radiators, overloaded outlets and unsecured rugs.
Proper lighting is essential for safety. Properly lit environments consist of a combination of various types of lighting sources, including natural light, overhead lighting, floor lamps and adjustable table lamps. Lighting levels should be uniform from room to room.
Seniors can require 3 to 6 times more light and should use higher wattage, compact fluorescent or LED bulbs and test the lighting level to see which works best.
Individuals with certain vision conditions may have increased difficulty seeing in extreme light or dark. Doors, floor molding and handrails should be painted a contrasting color to make them stand out.
In the bathroom, non-skid bath mats in contrasting colors in and outside tubs should be used. Grab bars should be used in showers and around toilets as well as faucets with separate controls for hot and cold water and anti-scald temperature controls. Contrasting toilet seats can help. Additional lighting should be used in showers as well as shower chairs, contrasting colored soap, soap dishes and colored towels.
Kitchen should be free of obstacles with non-skid kitchen rugs and rugs and mats should be secured with double-sided tape. All flammable items near the stove should be removed. LED strip lights should be put under counters.
Surfaces should be covered with non-slip materials. Stair treads should be non-slip and in contrasting colors. Patterned flooring or loose rugs can lead to confusion and falls. Solid, contrasting flooring and rugs should be used. Worn out carpeting should be replaced with lowpile carpeting. It is important to use non-skid floor wax and avoid high gloss wax to minimize glare. Stairs and halls must be well-lighted.
Beds should be kept at their lowest height, if possible. Bedroom slippers should be non skid and always placed in the same area of the bed.
Gordon Rovins is director of special programs at Lighthouse Guild.