The eyes have it: why colour and contrast are essential for age-proofing homes

Stock image courtesy of Pixabay (Demo)

Colour and contrast, along with good illumination, all have as vital a role in creating age-friendly homes as grab rails and other accessibility features, writes David Watkins

WHAT do you think of when you think of home?

Where the heart is? The green, green grass? Or simply comfort and security; your place to rest, eat and bathe?

Without a doubt, home is the most important place in the world to us, and we would like to think that this will always be the case — even in old age.

But as we all know, old age does not come on its own, particularly when it comes to our eyes.

One in five people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss, a number that increases to one in two people over the age of 90.

Sight loss can mean significant changes in our prescription, or it can mean having a sight deteriorating condition such as Glaucoma or Macular Degeneration.

We can embrace getting older by making sure our home remains a place of sanctuary. We can do this by making small design changes that can make a major difference while still maintaining your sense of style.

One of the single biggest issues affecting older eyes is inadequate lighting, but fortunately we live in times of great lighting technology.

LED bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs can achieve more light than traditional incandescent bulbs, all while using a fraction of their energy and have longer life spans. Using these types of bulbs in busy areas like bathrooms, bedrooms, the stairs and kitchen can support confidence in moving around the house.

Adding dimmable controls is another great feature and gives us the option of adjustable lighting levels throughout the year. Be sure to get professional advice when applying dimmable lights so that you get the best out of your lighting.

Lighting can also be battery operated. The benefit of battery-operated lighting is that they can be placed anywhere such as in wardrobes, kitchen cupboards, closets and over stairways. These light sources not only provide support for our eyes, but also make for a great home improvement feature in any home.

Lighting over external steps and ramps is also important. These lights can help us best judge edges with confidence in darker months of the year and in the evenings.  Similarly, having lighting outside your front door is great for finding keys. Sensor lighting is an ideal feature for this area.

For too long bathrooms have been too white and too glossy.  White, glossy bathrooms don’t support older eyes and can make for a sterile and cold environment. Contrasting surfaces make an excellent complement to correct lighting.

Consider walls or tiles that are matt in finish, which tonally contrast to white fixtures such as the sink, shower and toilet and particularly any white grab rails that may be in place. You can be as creative as you like in when it comes to designing an attractive bathroom.

Lastly, floors with patterned surfaces can be disorientating for older eyes, and speckled worktops can be confusing. Opting for plainer carpets or flooring can improve confidence in walking and getting around for older people.

Speckled worktops can make it difficult to locate small items and to know if the surface is clean or not. There are many beautiful worktops that are more appropriate such as oak block, that make jobs like preparing food less tasking for older eyes!

All of these design features are recommended as part of our RNIB “Visibly Better” accredited scheme. If you would like more information on making homes more accessible for people with low vision, then contact RNIB 0303 123 9999 or email


David Watkins is “Visibly Better” co-ordinator for RNIB Cymru.


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