COLOUR AND CONTRAST ARE FRIENDS OF THE AGING EYE

Sixty is not really the new 40, yet we tend to think we can still perform tasks as though we were much younger.  A 75-year-old man who might have played singles tennis daily when he was in his 30’s and 40’s is now encouraged to play doubles because his friends are concerned about him tripping and falling.  As our bodies age, getting older can bring on a sense of loneliness and fear.  

What do we know about the eye as we age?  First, the annual economic burden of vision loss and eye disease and disorders such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy is staggering.  Millions of people are at substantial risk for vision loss from age-related eye issues.  Cells in the retina that are responsible for normal color vision decline in sensitivity as we age, causing colours to become less bright and the contrast between different colours to be less noticeable.  Older adults may need up to 70% more light than a typical 20-year old. 

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It’s helpful to recognize that colour and contrast improve way-finding for the visually impaired and those who are aging in place.  The psychology of colour reveals that it affects our emotions, moods, signals and feelings.  Optimism, friendliness, excitement, trust, peace and balance are all influenced by colour.  We experience the colour cycle throughout the stages of our life. For young children, soft colours like yellows, cream, peaches or pink radiate warmth and peace and are emotionally smooth and comforting.   Some teenagers go through an identity crisis and may use black to hide it because it’s “cool.”

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Thus, decorating with the elderly in mind needs to address warmth, security and harmony. Colours can be active, passive or neutral.  Light colours are expansive and airy, making rooms seem larger and brighter.  Dark colours are sophisticated and warm, giving rooms an intimate appearance.  Bright greens, such as Kelly green, are found to energize.  Used with clear blue and pure white, green encourages physical activity and evokes renewal, balance, refreshment and peace.   Cork, a warm colour, is also a sound and temperature insulator, is environmentally friendly, eliminates leg fatigue and creates contrast.  

Among the various types of lighting are general room, recessed, track and surface mounted.  Lighting should accommodate natural light, direct light, indirect light and task light.  Blue light, which is found on many display screens of electronics, can compensate for the aging eye as it turns yellow over time.

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To help create visual cues, kitchens should have a minimum of three types of lighting: room, task and area lighting.  Counter tops should have rounded corners and be a continuous surface.  Light-coloured, patterned counters help aging eyes to more easily identify objects.  Large, easier-to-see controls on appliances also provide ample leveraging. 

Colour and contrast can and should be a part of every decorating choice in all the rooms of a home where someone is aging in place.

By Wanda E. Gozdz, B.S., A.S., CAPS, Allied ASID, CAPS, CLIPP, CHAMP
President, Golden Age Living, LLC

Wanda E. Gozdz Golden Age Living