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33 Home Safety Tips for Seniors with Low Vision

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Low vision is a condition broadly-defined as any loss in vision that affects a person’s functional abilities but cannot be corrected by glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. Although low vision is not a normal part of aging1, it typically develops from eye diseases in which age is a risk factor such as age-related macular degernation (A.M.D.), diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and glaucoma. Therefore, the majority of individuals with low vision are age 65 and older.2

Those with low vision who intend on aging in place must take extra measures to ensure their independence at home. While certain aspects of a living environment may be suitable for more capable eyes, the simple fact remains that older adults with low vision will likely need additional modifications to help prevent falls and avoid other safety hazards.

The Three C’s for Low Vision

When it comes to trying to address the unique challenges that individuals with low vision face at home, there are three helpful (and memorable) principles to keep in mind: color, contrast, and cues.

Color

Color is an effective way to bring attention to something, signal a warning, and distinguish transitions. Too much of the same color can make things difficult for individuals with low vision, so it is important to consider how to use colors in ways that highlight rather than camouflage. Too many colors, on the other hand, can be visually distracting and also cause problems. Finding a healthy middle is key.

A bathroom with very similarly-colored beige cabinets, tile, backsplash, and sinks

Too little variation in color makes the surfaces and fixtures in this bathroom hard to differentiate from one other

A bathroom with green, white, and blue checkered tile flooring

Too much color can be distracting and even dizzying. The over-stimulation can actually lead to falls

Contrast

Contrast deals with juxtaposing something that is light with something that is dark. Contrast can be used to more easily find things, identify where something begins and ends, and recognize details such as shapes and figures. Similar to color, there must be a balance with contrast. Too much light flooding a space can cause glare and be blinding whereas too little light doesn’t help anyone. So, use light and dark strategically.

A chair with blindingly bright sunlight streaming in from a window behind it

Too little contrast from the sunlight causes the area behind the chair to wash out, making it difficult to see

A chair in a very dimly lit room with a spotlight flooding down onto it

Too much contrast because of the insufficient general lighting also reduces visibility

Cues

Any kind of indicator that serves as a reminder and helps with completing tasks is called a cue. Cues can be visual, aural, tactile, olfactory (smell), and even gustatory (taste). And again, as with the other two C’s, only use cues when needed. Overusing cues causes them to lose force and can be overwhelming for users; think of someone giving such detailed directions that the instructions become overly complicated. But don’t underutilize cues either. Strike the right balance of cues.

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Consider each of the three C principles when evaluating a living space to brainstorm possible solutions that can help with problematic areas. And as a head start, here is a list of 33 home safety and functionality tips to implement now.

  1. Provide soft, even lighting throughout the home to avoid both shadows and blinding glare.A living room with recessed can lights, uplighting behind built-in cabinets, a pendant light hanging from the ceiling, and natural light filling the room from windows
  2. Incorporate task lighting at activity areas such as kitchen counters, desks, and tables so users can more clearly see the task at hand.Kitchen with task lighting above the island and under the upper cabinets
  3. Install extra lighting above the shower to help prevent slips and falls.Two can lights installed above a roll-in accessible shower
  4. Increase the lighting in bedroom closets and other closets in the home to make finding and replacing items easier.Walk in closet with track lighting illuminating the space
  5. Keep lamps at the bedside to provide an illuminated pathway when overhead lights in the bedroom are off such as when going to bed or waking up (especially in the middle of the night).Two illuminated lamps on either side of a bed along with task lighting above a desk and another lamp to provide auxiliary light
  6. Add wall sconces or other supplemental lighting at stairs to ensure safety while descending and ascending.A well-lit living area with two wall sconces illuminating the stairs to the second floor
  7. Consider using clap-on and clap-off lights to avoid having to walk to certain lighting fixtures and fiddling with hard-to-use switches.Bedside lamp turning on and off at the sound of a clap
  8. Place nightlights throughout all rooms and hallways in the home to guard against falls while walking in the dark.Three nightlights illuminate a hallway
  9. Install lighting at outdoor pathways, ramps, steps, and porches to keep users safe.Three lights shine on outdoor steps
  10. Use matte finish flooring to reduce unwanted glare from reflecting off of the floor.A kitchen with non-glare, matte finished wooden floors
  11. Install blinds on windows to allow for control over natural light. Sunlight at dawn and dusk can create significant glare inside a home, but adjustable blinds enable users to block any unhelpful light from outside.Dining room featuring a large window with blinds controlling the outdoor sunlight
  12. Paint doors and door frames a different color than the surrounding wall to help make them easier to spot.Door with trim that is a different color than the surrounding wall
  13. Use door hardware that stands out from the color of the door to help with locating locks and doorknobs.Door with hardware that stands out against the color of the door
  14. Install outlet and light switch plates that are a different color than the surrounding wall to make them easy to find.A dark light switch cover with white switches against a light-colored wall
  15. Use flooring with a different color than the walls to help define where the floor meets the wall. Avoid any flooring that has distracting patterns and/or colors.Solid-colored flooring in a living room that contrasts against the white baseboards and light-colored walls
  16. Furnish each space in the home with furniture that stands out against their surroundings to ensure users safely sit down and stand up without missing the seat.Bright red chairs stick out against the light-colored wood floor and white walls
  17. Avoid upholstery with dizzying stripes, plaids, and other patterns. Stick with mostly solid upholstery. Also, consider placing an afghan or throw over the back of chairs to help make them more visible.Living room with solid-colored upholstered couch contrasting with lighter-colored surroundings
  18. The handrails for staircases should be a different color so that users can more easily identify and grab onto the railing.Staircase with different-colored handrail
  19. Prevent falls by applying adhesive strips to stair treads to increase their visibility.Brightly-colored adhesive tape on the edge of stairs
  20. Keep floor areas clear, especially around high traffic areas like hallways, doorways, and stairways.Bedroom with clear floor space around the bed and into the master bathroom
  21. Install kitchen cabinet hardware that has a different color than the cabinets to make them stand out.Kitchen with light-colored cabinets that have dark hardware
  22. Use a dark cutting board to prepare light-colored foods and a light cutting board to chop dark-colored foods.White cutting board with dark food and black cutting board with light food
  23. Use opaque dishware that contrasts with cabinets and tables. Avoid clear glass dishware because it is harder to see.Dark table with clear water glasses and coffee mugs
  24. Set tables and eating surfaces with table settings that differ in color from the dishware to help make them more apparent.Bright green place settings under dishware at a kitchen island
  25. Label the buttons on appliances with color-coded tactile pens or stickers to make the buttons easier to identify.Microwave with color-coded stickers
  26. Affix adhesive labels with large, bold content descriptions onto cans, boxes, and containers in the kitchen.Cans with labels and large lettering to distinguish them
  27. Another option is to assign a certain number of rubber bands to be wrapped around containers based on their contents. For example, place one rubber band for canned veggies and two rubber bands for canned fruits.Cans with different numbers of rubber bands to distinguish them
  28. Decorate the bathroom with colorful bath mats, curtains, washcloths, and towels that differ from the rest of the bathroom area so that these items can be seen easily.Bright blue towels, curtain, and accessories in a white bathroom
  29. Swap the standard white toilet seat for a dark-colored one that pops.Black and white bathroom with a white toilet that has a black seat lid
  30. Use a tactile pen and/or color-coded stickers to differentiate medication bottles. Also, consider storing medications in rooms based on when they are taken, such as morning pills in the kitchen and nighttime pills in the master bathroom medicine cabinet.Three bottles of medication with unique color-coded stickers to tell them apart
  31. Ensure that outdoor sidewalks, driveways, and stairs are in good condition; repair cracks and level any uneven areas that could be tripping hazards.Outdoor stairs and sidewalk in good repair
  32. Keep outdoor pathways clear of bushes, debris, and low-lying tree branches.Pathway to house clear of shrubs and plants
  33. Spread salt on outdoor walkways, driveways, and steps to melt ice and snow during the winter. Consider asking a friend or relative to shovel the snow if necessary.Snow-cleared driveway to a house in winter

1. Turbert, David. “Causes of Low Vision.” Edited by Robert H Janigian, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 25 Jan. 2017, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/low-vision-cause.

2. United States, Congress, National Institutes of Health. “Living With Low Vision.” Living With Low Vision, National Eye Health Education Program, 7 Feb. 2013. nei.nih.gov/sites/default/files/health-pdfs/LivingWithLowVisionBooklet.pdf.