Designing lighting applications for active senior living facilities

Due to the increase in active age of many seniors, the dangers from symptoms such as losses of balance, hearing, and sight impairments are prevalent at many senior care facilities.

By J Paul Lewis September 13, 2019

No longer inactive into their seventies, seniors are engaging in activities in many environments during the day and well into the night. Due to the increase in active age of many seniors, the dangers from symptoms such as losses of balance, hearing, and sight impairments are prevalent at many senior care facilities. To help lessen the impact of a loss of clarity and dimness of the eyes, lighting design for senior living facilities must incorporate glare-free natural and artificial light at levels that make tasks easy to perform. Here are some of the key lighting applications to consider for interior and exterior senior living spaces:

Lighting Design for the Interior

Lighting controls

Lighting controls are an important consideration for senior living spaces. Dexterity may diminish as seniors age, and as such, all controls for lighting should accommodate for lack of grip and limited motion. Additionally, the height of control devices should be positioned to minimize the need for occupants to bend over. Controls and switches should be centrally located in case of short-term memory loss symptoms. If sedentary occupant conditions exist, motion sensors and voice activated controls should be utilized.

Continuing advancements in control technology have provided lighting design opportunities to create WELL certified environments for occupants of all ages, but especially senior living environments. An example of a technologically robust lighting control system that we are seeing in WELL certified buildings is circadian lighting, which emulates the morning sunrise light levels through the noontime cool light temperature, then gradually shifts lighting levels to warmer temperature colors as the day reaches sunset into the evening hours. This process helps assist with the body’s mental and physical health response to sun and natural light exposure.

Occupancy/motion sensors 

Occupancy and motion sensors provide convenience for the resident within their living environment with regard to lighting control. The early days of these sensors saw misfires, which turned off illumination if the occupant became too sedentary. Advanced features, such as heat detection, have minimized inconveniences that may have occurred in the past. Other advances in technology such as rocker-type switches provide much better control for those seniors that may have trouble gripping and turning small dials and round switches. Similarly, integral night lighting in switch and outlet cover plates can assist with wayfinding and movement.

Clear-color temperature ranges 

Color temperatures, or the warm or cool perception of light, are available in a wide range, from common temperatures up to 6000 kelvin for high-security environments and transportation applications. For most senior occupants in a daily living situation, 2700 to 3500 kelvin is the ideal range.

Sufficient illumination levels 

Task lighting, or the increase of illuminance to better accomplish specific activities, is not only important for seniors, but is an important design element to consider for all ages in order to relieve eye strain and assist with item identification. This is especially the case when tasks in close proximity are being performed, such as reading, crafts, or even table game activities. As text fonts and graphics become smaller and more compact on documentation and instructions, high-non-glare light levels become necessary. Some tasks needing fine hand work can require as much as 100 foot candles worth of light. Traditional book reading requires a task light level that increases and focuses on the page surface.

Evenly distributed lighting levels are also important. A smooth contrast in lighting levels across a space will help to minimize eye strain. Overall ambient light in a space is then augmented by task lighting if focused on activities, or display accent lighting if creating a certain ambiance. In any situation, fixtures must conceal the light source or bulb from direct eye view to properly illuminate the space or items and minimize glare. Focal task lighting, which is directed at the task as opposed to ambient general lighting, can be employed for important work or hobby tasks that involve delicate movements. In connection with sufficient and even light levels, correct interior finish selection and placement will maximize productivity and minimize fatigue due to contrast levels and glare from surfaces. This is especially true as adults mature and progress though life.

Lighting Design for the Exterior

Lighting design elements for exterior environments is similarly important when designing for senior activity spaces. Pedestrian movement, community events, and facility security are just a few of the items that should be under careful consideration. Exterior lighting levels must balance security concerns around the living spaces, while minimizing illumination and glare leaking into sleeping areas. Exterior steps and path illumination is critical for maneuverability. It’s also important to include sufficient illumination at frequently visited exterior drop-off and pick-up areas where seniors would be stepping in and out of vehicles. Similarly, directing illumination towards all door entry points is crucial to avoid trip and fall hazards, a leading cause of senior injuries.

Altogether, by employing these modern design components both internally and externally, we can help design safer and more secure active senior community spaces across the nation.

This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s blog. Dewberry is a CFE Media content partner. 

Original content can be found at