Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Lighting in Independent Living Facilities and How Designers Can Help Improve It

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Lighting in Independent Living Facilities and How Designers Can Help Improve It

Article excerpt

This study documented the lighting in two independent living facilities (ILFs) and residents' perceptions regarding safety and accessibility in their ILFs. Findings indicated lighting was inadequate to compensate for the sensory losses of residents when compared to lighting standards for seniors. Residents rated safety of lighting as average to safe and accessibility of rooms or areas as average to easy, raising questions about their positive responses. The study included suggestions to designers for providing high quality lighting environments supportive of the aging process.

Current medical advances enable people to live longer and enjoy healthier lives. Yet eventually, some who are healthy now will need living assistance and will decide to live in independent living facilities (ILFs). This study is an evaluation of lighting in two ILFs and its potential impact on the safety and accessibility of residents.

"The capabilities of the human visual system depend on the amount of light reaching the retina" (Boyce, 2003, p. 165). With age, the pupil in the eye gets smaller, resulting in a severe reduction in the amount of light reaching the retina. It is estimated that "the retina of an 80year old receives six times less light than that of a 20-year-old" (Illuminating Engineering Society of North America [IESNA], 2007, p.ll). Thus, as individuals age, they become more vulnerable in their environments.

The aging eye is also less able to adapt to light level changes, especially from light to dark (Torrington & Tregenza, 2007), making it more difficult for the elderly to see in the dark and to adapt to changes in light levels (IESNA, 2007). In older eyes, the process of full light to dark adaptation may take more than 45 minutes (Jackson, Owsley, & McG win, 1999), potentially resulting in a physical threat (Pitts, 1982) in negotiating interior environments. Due to failing health and vision, the elderly are also more susceptible to falling than younger persons. About one-third of community dwelling older adults and 60% of nursing home residents fall each year due to disease, physiological changes such as vision, and environmental hazards such as poor lighting (Fuller, 2000).

Lighting has a key role in the functional design of any space (IESNA, 2007), especially those spaces in which older adults rely on the physical environments for visual clues to compensate for sensory losses (Brawl ey, 2005). Light may be used to compensate for age-related ocular changes such as reduced vision, decline in adaptation, glare intolerance, and decreased night vision to provide safe visual environments for older adults (IESNA, 2007). The literature and IESNA standards suggest that the use of high, glare-free light levels, along with attention to uniform and transitional light, are essential elements in providing safe visual environments for seniors; this will maximize their personal independence while promoting their well-being and safety.

In this study, lighting in two ILFs was evaluated to see if the facility design teams provided residents safe environments by utilizing industry standards. The opinions of the older residents also were sought regarding the quantity of light in terms of safety and accessibility within their independent living environments. Two research questions were addressed in this study: (a) Are illuminance levels in the ILFs adequate to compensate for adaptation and reduced retinal illuminance of the aging eye to provide safe, accessible environments as determined by industry standards? (b) How do seniors rate the lighted visual environments in their ILFs regarding safety and accessibility?


The IESNA developed light level standards for lighting and the visual environment for senior living by taking into account the changes in the aging eye as well as the type of tasks elders perform (Table 1). The IESNA recommendation for deficient adaptation is to "provide transitional spaces and balance light levels in adjacent spaces and make general lighting uniform" (p. …

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