Design ideas that support homeowners with age-related vision loss.

Create a Safe Bathroom for the Aging Eye

Design ideas that support homeowners with age-related vision loss.

Vision loss is a leading cause for loss of independence among seniors, according to the Alliance of Aging Research, and can interfere with simple everyday tasks, such as dressing and bathing. It's also a risk factor for falls in the home, especially in the bathroom, where 80 percent of falls among adults 65 or older occur. Design professionals can help keep senior clients safe and comfortable by incorporating strategies that address their visual needs.

Incorporate strategies that address your visual needs

Analyze Illumination

Lighting should be bright to compensate for reduced light penetration caused by changes in the cornea, pupil size and lens. Ambient illumination levels should be twice or three times the norm and supplemented with task lighting for grooming and, more importantly, reading labels on medication bottles. Shower and bath areas, where users are typically without their glasses, require lighting that is unobstructed by enclosures and bright enough to be visible in mist, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES).

Lighting should be bright to compensate for reduced light penetration caused by changes in the cornea, pupil size and lens

Establish tonal contrasts

Because the lens yellows with age, thus diminishing the eye's ability to differentiate color, Gunson suggests using strong tonal contrasts to highlight transitions between adjacent materials. Articulate the edges of countertops, sinks and transitions in flooring with contrasting stripes or LED tapelight. Paint switch plates, doorframes, chair rails and baseboards a different color from the walls to reinforce spatial orientation and help with navigation. Similarly, if the walls are light-colored, opt for faucets and grab bars in a darker finish, such as oil-rubbed bronze, to heighten their visibility.

Activate the senses

The bathroom can also support low-vision users with tactile cues and other sensory information. Install embossed ceramic floor tiles or rubber flooring near steps or doorways, alerting users to transitions that could be trip hazards. Sensor-activated faucets, bath fans and lighting eliminate the need for manual operation.

Think Day and Night

Ideally, daylight should come from more than one direction to provide uniform illumination, which is easier on senior eyes. As the eye ages, its muscles weaken and adapt more slowly to changes in light levels. If the room has only one window, the IES suggests increasing electric lighting to compensate. At night, low light levels should be maintained for those who need to use the bathroom. Having a light switch near the bed and nightlights mounted low on the walls leading to the bathroom will aid with wayfinding.

Daylight should come from more than one direction to provide uniform illumination, which is easier on senior eyes

Warm with color

Grays and neutrals may be popular in the bathroom, but homeowners with low vision benefit more from a warm color scheme. Spice tones, such as reds, oranges and colors in the copper to golden range, are easier to see through yellowed lenses than blues and purples, Gunson says. Filtered daylight and 3000K fluorescent lamps offer better visibility than incandescent sources, which are yellower and further obscure color differentiation.

Spice tones, such as reds, oranges and colors in the copper to golden range are easier to see

Much of aging-in-place design addresses the physical disabilities that come with growing old. As most people will experience changes in vision as they age, a bathroom that responds accordingly will help keep senior homeowners independent and safe longer.