Lighting For Senior Living Spaces
By: Craig DiLouie

The 65-plus age group is the United States’ fastest-growing demographic. This segment, counted as 13% of the population (39.6 million) in 2009, is projected to increase to 19% (72 million) by 2030. By 2025, 40% of the population will be over age 55. “Never before in human history has there been so many older people on the planet,” said Jay Massa, regional sales manager for Kenall Lighting ( “As the Baby Boomer population ages, the demand for senior living facilities will soon far outweigh the current capacity to serve this demographic.” Given the present economic conditions, more Baby Boomers are expected to age in place (i.e., retire locally). The base of facilities for senior living is therefore expected to grow across the country, along with products and services catering to this market.

A critical element of ensuring quality of life for the elderly is proper lighting designed to accommodate the aged eye. Even without age-related ocular conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, as the eye ages, it becomes a less effective instrument of vision.

“Starting at about the age of 40, our vision begins to decline,” said Deb Zawodny, central regional sales manager, architectural ambient/healthcare, for Eaton’s Cooper Lighting business “The lenses of our eyes thicken and become more yellow to brown, which creates distortion in color perception: For example, blues and greens are hard to distinguish and blues may start to be seen more as grays. The pupils of our eyes also become smaller and less responsive to light: An 80-year-old needs six times the amount of light a 20-year-old does to see at the same level.”

Zawodny pointed out that higher light levels should be properly distributed, as the eye’s lens develops opacities over time that are prone to scattering light, resulting in greater sensitivity to glare and a greater likelihood to find glare disabling. For example, people with visual impairments may see a patch of glare on a tile floor as a wet spot. Conversely, if there is a very low light level on that same floor, the patch of relative low brightness may be seen as a physically low spot.

As a result, it is important that light levels be high, but uniform, within each space. Going even further, light levels should be reasonably consistent from space to space, as the mature eye takes longer to adapt to significant changes in light level.

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES; offers guidelines for lighting for the aging eye, recommending high levels of uniform ambient lighting that is consistent between rooms and provided without direct or reflected glare:

  • Light fixtures should be properly shielded or feature concealed sources.
  • Indirect ambient lighting is preferred and can be implemented using valances, wall washers, torchieres, and similar equipment.
  • Lighter finishes on walls and ceilings will brighten the space by reflecting more light.
  • Wherever possible, daylight should be used as long as it is balanced with the electric lighting, which may be realized by introducing it from more than one direction (e.g., skylights, opposing walls, etc.) or by increasing    electric light levels.
  • Skylights with direct sun exposure should feature diffused glass or plastic.
  • Well-placed task lighting with adjustable levels of illumination can provide supplemental lighting in specific reading or work areas.
  • Additional supplementary illumination, such as lighting mounted under exterior stair rails, can provide additional light for safety.
  • All lamps should provide good color rendering, with a CRI of 80+.

A Customized Approach
“Senior living now covers a wide range of facilities and residents, and a onesize-fits-all approach definitely doesn’t apply,” said Zawodny. “This can make designing these facilities difficult lighting must be provided that is suitable for everyone from healthy, active residents to those in declining health and with failing sight. In transitional living, these groups may be separated; in others, they may all inhabit the same facility or at least share some common areas. When residents transition to hospital care areas, we need to provide clinical lighting that is as residential in look as possible to provide somewhat of a comfort level to the resident who has now become a patient.”
“The most important consideration in lighting a senior living facility is ensuring the safety of the residents,” added Massa.

New senior facilities should be designed to current standards and will benefit from knowledge of IES guidelines and expertise in their application; research suggests many older facilities are underlighted and may benefit from a redesign to current standards. Common areas, corridors, and task lighting in residential and clinical areas are good places to start upgrading.

In both new and existing construction, selling opportunities exist in utilizing the most efficient lighting systems, particularly in older buildings still using incandescent sources. LEDs offer a good choice for not only their high efficiency, but also their longevity and cool and quiet operation. Be sure that the product doesn’t produce flicker and is compatible with any control solutions and there is a plan in place to check light levels in the future to ensure proper light levels are continually provided.

When choosing lighting equipment in common areas, Massa noted that the greatest lighting concern is often aesthetics. “However, in the apartments of an independent living senior facility, it’s important to understand residents’ sight issues and to design and provide proper light levels to help elderly residents see better with less glare,” he said.

Another important factor, he noted, is that lighting equipment may need to meet or exceed industry standards relevant to healthcare/senior living settings, such as maintaining environmental barriers to guard against surface viruses.

“Sconces are an ideal fixture to enhance hallways both aesthetically and for illumination,” said Massa. “Again, it’s important to consider styles that not only complement the architectural and interior designs, but also meet the most stringent requirements for infection control and electromagnetic compatibility with sensitive medical equipment.”

Another good lighting choice for senior living facilities, he added, is the sealed LED steplight, which can be used in patient rooms, corridors, pathways and workstations. Products are available offering a choice of amber, blue, or white light and adjustability to 100%, 50%, and 25% light output.

“A senior living facility also falls into the category of commercial because of the kitchen,” Massa noted. “Whether established by the USDA, FDA, or end-user, senior living facilities must meet stringent cleanliness standards.”

Driven by the need to keep foods free of contaminants, Massa explained that the kitchen luminaires must be designed to withstand rigorous cleaning protocols and meet performance listings relevant to their intended use, including wet location ratings, IP65 ratings, and NSF2 certification—all of which support frequent hosedown and overall cleanability.

Zawodny added that nightlights are important sources in senior living facilities. “Well-regulated circadian rhythms become even more important as we age,” she explained. “Amber/red nightlights can be used to keep ‘artificial daylight’ out of sleeping areas, and lowering light levels in the evenings can help ease residents into their sleeping cycle. Keeping light levels ramped up during the day can help keep residents alert during waking hours. In fact, well-regulated day/night cycles have been shown to reduce night wandering in Alzheimer’s patients by as much as 50%.”

Provide Some Control
Another important opportunity to enhance convenience and lifestyle is to provide seniors the ability to control their own lighting conditions.

“Advances in lighting control technology, specifically wireless lighting and shade controls, promote independence, save energy, install quickly and easily as replacements for standard switches, and can help seniors adapt to health challenges that may limit mobility as they age,” said Michael Smith, vice president of residential solutions for Lutron Electronics ( “Even a very simple strategy, like installing a wireless occupancy sensor, can ensure that a senior never has to walk into a dark room and that lighting automatically turns off when the room is empty to save electricity and reduce costs. Wireless remote controls for lighting and motorized shades ensure that even as a senior may experience reduced mobility, he or she can have control of the lighting environment from the bedside, an end table, or even a wheelchair.”

Options range from standalone devices to whole-home systems that can automate control throughout a single apartment or an entire facility. Systems can be preprogrammed for preset scenes and controlled by remote control from wireless devices, with products once considered luxury items now readily affordable for senior living facilities.

“As seniors age and experience physical limitations, lighting control provides a level of independence that younger people take for granted,” said Smith.

Massa encourages electrical distributors to compete in this market by positioning themselves as problem solvers. “Education is one of the most important ways distributors can arm themselves when engaging customers,” he said.

“Know the lighting problems these facility owners and managers face, have lighting options available that can solve even the most challenging environments, work closely with reps and customers to offer the correct lighting solutions to solve problems, and offer exceptional customer service. The sale doesn’t end when the product is delivered.”

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