DDMagazine: Design for Aging Eyes


As published in SPRING 2017 DESERT DESIGN


DOES YOUR CLIENT HAVE AGE-RELATED VISION CHANGES OR a specific eye disease? Understanding the challenges facing aging adults will guide the direction of design, during the programming process. Age-related changes include the washing out of color vision, while eye disease can reduce the field of vision; both scenarios need to be taken into account.

The typical age-related eye condition is presbyopia. The results of this condition is a loss of flexibility in the lens, the lenses become noticeably yellow, and the pupil's muscles weaken. Symptoms include: colors becoming dim and brownish, and the need for additional light to complete tasks. Ambient light needs to increase, and specific task lighting needs to exist as well. The contrast in materials needs to be considered also. For instance, a white toilet on a light gray floor tile with a white subway wall tile is a definite safety concern, since the colors are too similar, and the depth of field is reduced

The most well-known eye disease is cataracts, which is when there is a clouding of the lens. The solution for this disease is to remove the blurry vision, faded colors, and distractions from glare through undergoing lens replacement. Not a permanent concern, but the individual needs to be willing to accept treatment.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)destroys the sharp central vision. This permanent blindness impacts reading and driving, as individuals often rely on their peripheral vision. From this, space planning the furniture needs to be addressed. Diabetic Eye Disease is a complication of battling diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is the damage to tiny blood vessels inside the retina. The symptoms appear as floaters or dark spots in the field of vision, which can cause difficulties with their sight.

Glaucoma is when there is unusually high pressure in the optic nerve. It impacts the peripheral vision and can progressively worsen. The results of Glaucoma lead to vision loss and even blindness. As we age, we recognize objects by their form, instead of by their color. For example, the shape of an apple becomes more recognizable to our brain than the color. Contrast and lighting become more important than one specific color. Tonal contrast is more important than color contrast since it helps to differentiate between tones of a chair fabric and the tones of the floor. It feels as if sunglasses are always being worn indoors, and this effect is magnified with dimmed lighting.

Studies show that dark colors, such as dark blues and purples, are perceived as black by aging eyes. Imagine separating dark blue socks and black socks from the laundry dryer. Without further investigation, they appear to look the same. Also, pastels, such as a pastel pink and pastel blue, become washed-out and appear to be white. Color’s brightness is the least affected factor by vision loss. Hue and color saturation values are reduced by aging eyes. Color wavelengths in the blue-yellow spectrum are misinterpreted more so than colors with the red-green color spectrum. Complementary colors are perceived as the same color. Red and green side by side may not have enough distinguishing contrast for the aging eyes. For example, a bowl with red and green apples is perceived as just a bowl of apples.

Brighter colors reflect more wavelengths to the retina, adding to the brightness of an interior space. Bright upholstery, non-glaring surfaces, and ample light provide the ideal environment for senior living and aging in place.

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