Light levels for seniors

January 16th, 2012 9:26 am

Often times I work on senior living projects, where we run into the senior appropriate light level issues. This is a common scenario in the 20-30 year old facilities. Lighting requirements, when these properties were built, were not as stringent, or non-existent for that matter, creating a slew of issues for designers today.

Human Eye

Before I get to explaining the specific issue, let me run through the mechanics of an aging eye. When a human eye ages, it looses the ability to focus, to adjust to light level differences and to render color correctly. These alone are enough to think about a space differently when making interior finish selections. A good designer will take these aspects into consideration and remember to implement:

  • high finish contrast to improve spatial recognition
  • saturated color scheme to improve color discrimination (especially the short wavelengths, otherwise refereed to as “blue light”),
  • increased light levels throughout
  • balanced light levels throughout (eliminating uncomfortable transitions from dimmed to high-lit areas)
  • flicker-free, quiet lamps
  • minimize glare throughout

All these solutions allow for maximum eye comfort and performance in a senior living housing, whether residential or commercial.


Just like The International Code Council (ICC) establishes and revises various Building Codes, The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) is responsible for creating lighting standards for different applications, senior living included. The most current research paper on Lighting and the Visual Environments for Senior Living has been released in 2007, and even that information, though thorough, is a bit outdated.

Project Issue

Often times, the older independent living facilities rely solely on wall sconces, scattered along corridors, for the main sources of light. Regardless of the shade, wattage or light color, there is only so much one can do with these predominantly decorative fixtures. These are not meant to illuminate large spaces, and especially not corridors, where wayfinding and safety are of equal concerns.


With a concrete slab ceiling, our solutions are to add a drop ceiling system, or run a number of evenly spaced soffits and implement down lights within them. Both are viable solution, but expensive, and not the kind our budget allows for at this point. Other than maximizing the wattage of the lamps in the wall sconces, there is not much there can be done. Slim chances to achieve a full ambient light level with fixtures that are design to function as accents. Imagine trying to get milk from a giraffe. It’s just not possible.

End Result

The end result is satisfactory, though not perfect. Adding a secondary source of light in the future would be the most ideal, but at this point of time, and with largely limited budgets, the result is better than what we usually start with.

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