Aging Eye - Lighting Science

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Scientists agree, as we age, we need more light. Good lighting can increase safety and the quality of life for seniors and the visually impaired.

Good lighting can make the difference between seeing and not seeing for older adults with poor vision and between comfort and discomfort. Caregivers, allied medical professionals, and service providers can improve the quality of life of older people by recommending good lighting to mitigate some of the common problems associated with aging eyes.

Simulation of the amount of light reaching the retina.



Typical 20-year old = 100%

Typical 60-year old = 33%

Age 60

“It is estimated that for the same light level, a typical 60-year old receives about one-third the retinal illuminance of a 20-year old.” [Reference: Lighting Research Center, AARP Andrus Foundation, Lighting the Way: A Key to Independence by Mariana Gross Figueiro, 2001, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (11-11-11)]


Age 80

“Ian Bailey reported that the light adapted eye of a 20 year old receives six times more light than that of an 80 year old. In dark adapted conditions, the 20 year old eye receives about 16 times more light.  In comparison to younger persons, it is as though older persons were wearing medium density sunglasses in bright light and extremely dark glasses in very dim light.” [Reference: Working Group on Aging Workers and Visual Impairment, By National Research Council (U.S.).National Academies Press, 1987 – p. 1-67]


As I grow older, why is it harder for me to see?

"As you grow older, less light reaches the back of your eyes. Your pupils get smaller as you age, and the lens inside your eye becomes thicker, absorbing more light. The lens also scatters more light as you age, adding a "luminous veil" over images on your retina, which reduces the distinctness (or contrast) and sharpness of objects and the vividness of colors. Reds begin to look like pinks, for example. You might have an even harder time seeing differences in blue colors, because your eye's lens absorbs more blue light." 

[Lighting The Way: A Key to Independence, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, (11-20-11)]



IES Lighting for Aging Eye

Lighting Your Way To Better Vision

20 pages

Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) & American Optometric Association – IES CG-1-09
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This brochure describes some of the changes that can be made to a home’s existing lighting to make it more comfortable and secure. The combination of regular, comprehensive eye examinations and quality environmental lighting can enhance the visual experience and maintain productivity for a lifetime. 


Lighting The  Way: A Key to Independence

28 pages

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute & AARP
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This publication answers common questions about vision and lighting posed by older adults, and offers practical solutions to help them, their families, and their caregivers to light their home for easier and more comfortable seeing. 
Age Related PDF

Age-Related Eye Diseases and Conditions at a Glance

2 pages

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Printable PDF

Part of the NEI mission is to develop public and professional education programs that help prevent blindness, reduce visual impairment, and increase awareness of services and devices that are available for people with low vision.

Age-Related Vision Problems

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Mayo Clinic

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Vision Problems
Mayo Clinic's award-winning consumer Web site offers health information and self-improvement tools.'s medical experts and editorial professionals bring you access to the knowledge and experience of Mayo Clinic for all your consumer health information needs.

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Sleep and Aging, Low Vision, Home Safety

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research.

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Since 1988, LRC has built an international reputation as a reliable source for objective information about lighting technologies, applications, and products, testing, demonstration, application, design, energy efficiency, and human factors.

"As one grows older, less light reaches the back of the eyes. The pupils get smaller and the lens inside the eye becomes thicker, absorbing more light. The lens also scatters more light as one ages, adding a "luminous veil" over images on the retina, which reduces the distinctness (or contrast) and sharpness of objects, and the vividness of colors."





Visual Impairments

If you notice any sudden changes in your vision, see your eye care professional immediately. The leading causes of vision impairment (low vision) and blindness in the U.S. are:



Presbyopia is a condition in which the lens of the eye loses its ability to focus, making it difficult to see objects up close. Noticeable in your early to mid-40s and worsens until around age 65. Prescription eyeglasses, larger print and more light will help you read.



Your visual field gets smaller as you age. It is the total area in which objects can be seen in the side (peripheral) vision while you focus your eyes on a central point. You may not be able to move your eye in all directions, experience reduced peripheral vision, upward gaze may be limited. Driving can become dangerous. [U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health]



Eye Floaters are those tiny spots, specks, flecks and "cobwebs" that drift aimlessly around in your field of vision. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of eye floaters, contact an eye specialist immediately — especially if you also see flashes of light or lose your peripheral vision. These can be symptoms of an emergency that requires prompt attention.



Dark and light adataptation time increases dramatically with age, these are the adjustment times for a young person's eyes. "The eye takes approximately 20–30 minutes to fully adapt from bright sunlight to complete darkness and ... five minutes for the eye to adapt to bright sunlight from darkness..." [Sensory Reception: Human Vision: Structure and Function of the Human Eye, Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 27, 1987]Create transitional light levels between rooms.



Surveys show that 40 to 70 percent of those 65 years old and older suffer from chronic sleep disturbances. Van Someren EJ. 2000. Circadian rhythms and sleep in human aging. Chronobiol Int. May;17(3):233-43 Researchers now realize the value of a dark night sleep. The elderly often wake several times throughout the night and have difficulty falling asleep. Red tinted night lights assist in keeping the body sleepy, blue light signals the body to wake up. Biological clock ...



Dry Eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears evaporate too quickly, increasing light sensitivity.



Soften light sources and avoid glare. An experience of discomfort or pain to the eyes due to light exposure or glare from bright sunlight, exposed light bulbs, clear light bulbs, reflected light off shiny surfaces, headlights.



Diabetic Retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes, risk increases with age and duration of diabetes, affecting and impairing vision over time. People with diabetes are encouraged to seek annual dilated eye exams.



Low vision services and devices like huge monitors and large button phones can help make the most of your remaining vision Age Related Macular Degeneration damages central vision and is the most common cause of legal blindness and vision impairment in older Americans. Consult your eye doctor for treatments to slow the rate of vision loss including Photodynamic therapy, laser treatments, injections, and taking a specific formulations of antioxidants and zinc.



Cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens, like looking through a foggy windshield. Most cataracts appear with advancing age. At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help; however, in later stages, cataract surgery is a common procedure.


Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that lead to damage to the optic nerve that carries visual information from the eye to the brain. The loss of vision is not experienced until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred. Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize or limit glaucoma-related vision loss. It is important to get your eyes examined regularly, and make sure your eye doctor measures your intra ocular pressure.



Other potential causes of vision problems include fatigue, overexposure to the outdoors (temporary and reversible blurring of vision), and many medications. [U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health]


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As we age, so do our eyes. It becomes difficult to read small print and perform other visual tasks, we need brighter light than we used to. Lighting strategies for improving the quality and amount of available light vary in cost and complexity. The advice of a professional lighting expert can be helpful when making decisions about lighting equipment, light sources, controls, installation, and building regulations. Visit our other lighting resources: Aging Eye Checklist | Aging Eye Solutions | Lighting Design Service | FAQ. - We can help you with your lighting Contact Us by email or phone.

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