New Decorating for Older Eyes

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Older eyes don’t see as well as younger eyes. Learn how new decorating techniques can help.

Did you ever wonder why seniors want more lights turned on while kids seem to be able to read in a shadowy, dark space? When my parents visit, one of the first things my mom, who is in her 70s, always says is to turn on more lights. My kids groan and say they can see just fine.

Problems of aging eyes

Older eyes have different requirements as compared to younger eyes. Needing more light is one of them. As eye muscles weaken, less light can enter the eye, so more light is required from external lighting sources.  Our eyes slowly progress to the point when it becomes difficult to read small print and see objects that are close, a condition called presbyopia.  It’s why you’ll see 40 somethings start to reach for reading glasses.

As the eye ages, the lens of the eye yellows, which decreases color perception and makes it more difficult to distinguish some colors. Everything appears with a yellow tone, similar to what is seen when wearing sunglasses with yellow lenses. It happens very slowly over an entire lifespan, so it’s not noticeable to the person.  

Eye diseases

These are not the only problems related to aging eyes. There are several age-related eye diseases:  

  • Macular degeneration – loss of vision in the center of the visual field

  • Glaucoma – reduced peripheral vision or side vision

  • Diabetic retinopathy – blurred vision, severe vision loss, and possibly blindness

  • Cataracts – The most common age-related eye disorder and causes the lens of the eye to become cloudy. According to the American Optometric Association, cataracts may cause blurred vision, dulling of colors, increased sensitivity to glare, difficulty seeing in low light situations, and decreased ability to distinguish an object from the background.  

Color sense decreases with age

2014 study in Optometry and Vision Science, the Journal of the American Academy of Optometry, also found that color sense decreases with age. Almost half of the study participants in their mid-70s and two-thirds of those in their mid-90s had difficulty seeing blue-yellow spectrum colors. Fewer had trouble seeing red-green colors.  

So how does this information affect decorating choices?  Here are several solutions that will address most issues that arise as a result of aging eyes.

Decorating ideas for older eyes

Lighting

Make sure that you have all three main types of lighting, general, task, and accent, in each room. Frequently used rooms, like the kitchen, require adequate amounts of the right kinds of light to be used safely and effectively.  

Each type of lighting has a specific purpose

  • General or ambient lighting gives overall, even light. An example is a ceiling light that, when turned on, provides some light to the entire room.

  • Task lighting is for a particular activity or function, such as under-cabinet lights that shine onto the countertop for meal preparation or lights in drawers.  

  • Accent lighting highlights a particular feature of a space, such as a light shining onto a favorite painting to show it off.

More lighting solutions

  • Adding more lights rather than just a few bright lights is beneficial. Too much light can cause problematic glare.  

  • Installing lights on a dimmer switch will allow for better adjustment ability. 

  • Open blinds and curtains to let in natural light. Use lighter window coverings that allow more light to filter through.   

Color Contrast 

Avoid monochromatic color themes.

Surfaces and materials in the home that have distinct and contrasting colors are easier for the older eye to distinguish different features. Use a combination of well-defined light and darker colors.

For example, each primary material choice in the kitchen should have a distinct color that is distinguishable from the other elements especially the one next to it. This includes cabinets, countertops, backsplash, walls and floor.  

Add color contrast for any floor transition.

Color contrast is especially important on steps and when changing from one flooring type to another. Add a color strip on each stair tread so the edge of the step can be easily seen. 

Use a contrasting color to mark a raised transition between rooms to reduce the possibility of a trip hazard.  

Color Selection

Decreased ability to sense absorption of color and color saturation leads to colors looking faded. Therefore, decorate with rich, saturated or vibrant colors. But this does not mean you should use all dark colors. Light colors can also have intense, deep hues.

Avoid pastels because the aging eye has difficulty distinguishing lighter, less saturated tones.

Optimal color contrast and selection will allow the eye to easily distinguish one object or feature from another.

Paint sheen

Using a matte or flat paint sheen to decrease the glare off of painted walls may be helpful especially in a room that gets a lot of natural light.

New lighting & color transform a senior home

Lighting is the biggest bang for your buck for making fast and significant aging in place home improvements. Modifying color schemes to include distinct and saturated colors rather than using monochromatic and pastel colors will also dramatically improve your ability to see well in your home. There is something for everyone because there are so many great options for lighting and decorating available at all price points. Now use your “eye” for design to explore ways to use light and color in your home!

About the Author

As a home health Physical Therapist for over 20 years, I help clients solve home dilemmas so they can live their best life.

I'm here to use that same problem-solving expertise and training as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you create an optimized home that's forward-thinking and future-ready to support you and your loved ones well for a lifetime.

Ready to discover your Golden Girl strategy for a retirement-ready home?