Aging eyes need four times as much light

Think about this. As aging adults, we need environments that offer four times the light needed when we were younger. Ideally, it's natural light that's complemented by high-quality ambient, task or accent lighting.

As we age, even without sobering eye conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or well-ripened-but-yet-to-be-removed cataracts, we lose our ability to focus on written detail or read fine print. And where do we find that small print? On all the over-the-counter medications we purchase, perhaps? On the nutritional labels of all those processed foods we eat too often, perhaps?

I could find no research that supports the relationship between medication mistakes and a lack of available reading light or anything that links obesity and the absence of enough lighting in grocery stores. But it may be a topic worth exploring.

Our eyes have less capacity to take in light as we get older. The most frequently cited illustration detailing the impact of the loss suggests an 80-year-old person's eyes can take in as little as 20 percent of the light they did at age 20. Five years ago when I was 'less old,' I would probably have scoffed at the idea of writing a column about the importance of light as it relates to aging vision.

But now I am actively looking for anything that will help me read the morning newspaper more easily and won't require me to increase the font size on my computer — yet again.

A useful publication on this subject is accessible through the American Optometric Association or the Illuminating Engineering Society ( and available without cost. It's appropriately titled "Lighting Your Way to Better Vision."

Little things make a big difference. I think we may want to focus first on the homes in which we spend so much of our time. Windows are important. If you relocate, how about looking for a more age-friendly setting. To be ideal, it would have wide, tall windows low to the floor so you can sit in your favorite chair and easily look outside. The goal is a home that maximizes natural light. If you're remodeling, you might think about putting in more and larger windows and skylights.

As long as I'm acting like a light-in-your-life advisor today, I'd encourage see-through, light-reflecting curtains instead of drapes. We have actually opted for no curtains at all in our home — in most rooms. Works for us.

For a period of time a few years ago, my husband had a complex and challenging visual issue that was (thankfully) resolved with a pair of surgeries. But while he was experiencing difficulties, I began to more fully recognize how light affected vision. And mood.

In fact, studies are in motion that link a variety of "health woes" (memory difficulties, slower reaction time, insomnia) and too-dark environments. Check out

Sometimes simple things make a huge difference. Dark colors absorb light, so consider painting walls a reflective off-white. But aging eyes also need contrast, so ceilings, walls and floors should be done in different colors or shades of the same color.

Outdoors a lot? Good. Protect your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses. Ask your ophthalmologist or optometrist for recommendations that make the most sense for you personally.

For me, this I know. Let there be light.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at 541-261-2037 or

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