We humans rely on sight to interpret as much as 90 percent of information about the world around us, especially to help us move around safely in familiar and unfamiliar environments.
Depth perception, color and contrast (the ability to see many different colors and differences in surface textures) are all processed through the eyes. Vision loss due to chronic conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and glaucoma decreases the ability of the eye to send important information to the brain, which increases the risk of injuries from accidents and decreases independence.
Adding light is essential to enhancing remaining vision, especially under low lighting conditions where people with chronic vision, mobility and balance impairments are at highest risk of injury from falling, from burns and cuts when cooking, and the many unseen hazards of everyday activities.
There are many simple and inexpensive ways to make life easier for people with vision loss.
Here are practical and easy-to-do suggestions taken from the new book Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home after Vision Loss, 3rd Edition by Maureen A. Duffy, a low vision therapist, educator, author, journalist and editor of the VisionAware blog.
Use directed, or task lighting such as flex-arm and gooseneck lamps that shine directly and brightly on work and reading areas.
Wear glasses with absorptive lenses to increase contrast and decrease glare. The lenses come in many tints, and, for reading, a lighter tint, perhaps even yellow, may be best. For outdoor daylight conditions, a darker tint may be more appropriate. An eye care professional can help make the best choices.
3. Check the "K" rating (Kelvin, color-temperature) on lightbulbs for important information about brightness and light quality. K of 2700 is warm/yellowish, K of 4500 is white and closest to true daylight, K of 5000 and above is blueish. For most people with low vision, a K rating of about 4200 is most helpful. Many people with low vision have trouble seeing under blueish light because more intensity is required in blue range of the light spectrum for the eye to have the same amount of light perception as a lesser intense source of white light.
LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are the best sources of direct, concentrated lighting for close work and reading. Although more expensive, LEDs last up to 40,000 hours and are very energy-efficient. Just as with other types of bulbs, LEDs should be selected for a K rating of about 4200. Many inexpensive LED flashlights and lighted walking aids emit in the blue end of the light spectrum.
Increase contrast to make objects in the house easier to see. For example, drape a contrasting towel or blanket over a piece of furniture.
Use light plates on dark mats or tablecloths (or the reverse). Avoid clear glassware and dishes because they are always more difficult to see.
Brightly illuminate steps, especially at the top and bottom and at landings to define the length of the staircase. Mark the edges of these steps with contrasting tape or paint. Remember those ads for "Clap-on, Clap-off" lamps? They can be purchased from many national retailers and online. Place "Clap-on" lamps near room entry points.
These are just a few of the book's many "Bright Ideas" about lighting and contrast, and just one of the many subject areas with practical, inexpensive and simple suggestions for modifications to every room that can make the home safer, more comfortable and more independently livable for people with vision loss.
Making Life More Livable: Simple Adaptations for Living at Home after Vision Loss, 3rd Edition by Maureen A. Duffy, is available from Amazon, the American Foundation for the Blind and other retail and online booksellers.