Q: My mother’s vision is changing, and she seems to need a lot more light to see properly. How can I adjust the lighting around the house and other places to help her be safer and more confident?

A: As we age, we require more light to see properly. People with vision loss, especially seniors, often find that they need even more light than their sighted peers. Making some adjustments to existing light sources and taking steps to reduce glare and other hazards can make a world of difference to a person living with vision loss.

The Task at Hand

Consider installing some bright task lighting throughout the house to be aimed directly at what needs to be illuminated - sewing, reading, crafts or cooking, for example. There are many different kinds of lights available ranging from table lamps to clip-on book-lights, gooseneck lamps and hanging lamps for over a workbench or craft table. There are even small stick-on lights available that adhere to the insides of small spaces like drawers or shelves. Experiment and shop around to find out what works best for you.

Light Up Your Life

Motion-activated sensor lights are a relatively inexpensive way to make sure the home's exterior entrances and hazardous areas like stairwells are always lit.

Consider installing lighting inside closets and cupboards, in staircases or even in the shower - be sure to use a waterproof light or have a professional install it for you.

The Bulb's the Thing

You'll also need to consider the type of light bulb used, since different types of bulbs create different kinds of lighting. Incandescent bulbs - whether conventional or low-energy - are relatively cheap and easy to find but they give off a yellow glow that is not ideal for some people with vision loss.

Fluorescent lights consume less electricity and do not radiate much heat but some may find they cause too much glare, as well as an annoying flicker.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (also known as energy-saving bulbs or CFLs) provide good overall light and help save household electricity costs. They may not be ideal for everyone, however, given that they can take up to 30 seconds to reach full brightness and may not be compatible with existing light fixtures.

Halogen bulbs provide consistent, bright task lighting, using very little electricity. But because they give off a great deal of heat they can be a safety hazard.

CNIB's Consumer Products and Assistive Technology (CPAT) sell full-spectrum lights which can greatly improve the contrast on printed material such as books or newspapers. They are also useful in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

For best results, contact a CNIB specialist or ask a qualified staff member at a lighting store to demonstrate the differences between the types of lighting and the different wattages available to determine which is best for you.

Let There Be Light - Wherever You Go

For safety and independence outside the home, try carrying a pocket-sized flashlight or penlight with you. It will come in handy in dim restaurants, when reading food labels or unlocking the front door at night. You may want to supplement this with a magnifier to help read smaller print - talk to a CNIB Low Vision Specialist to determine which of the many different models would be most suitable for your needs.

Finally, reducing glare whenever possible will help you make the most of your vision and reduce eye strain. Curtains or shades on windows will help keep glare out of rooms and off surfaces like computer monitors or TV screens.

Lids and Shades

To reduce glare outdoors, try wearing a hat with a visor when traveling or working outside during the day or when visiting places that have bright overhead lighting, such as grocery stores.

To further reduce glare, consider wearing a pair of tinted anti-glare sunglasses for outdoors that will eliminate glare from the sides and top, which conventional sunglasses don't do. An eye doctor or a customer service representative at your local CNIB centre can help you select a pair that works for you.

Finally, keep an open mind and experiment with different combinations of these tips and tools to discover what works best. With a bit of effort and ingenuity, almost any home or workspace can be made brighter, safer and much more accessible for anyone living with vision loss.

The Expert:

Color photo of Tanya Dawe, CNIB Low Vision Specialist.

Tanya Dawe has a degree in nursing from McGill University, and works as a certified Low Vision Specialist with CNIB. She works closely with ophthalmologists and optometrists across Ontario to promote low vision services and works to raise public awareness about some of the leading causes of vision loss.