Our eyes are the amazing organs that allow us to see the world around us. Most of us take our eyesight for granted and yet, if you’re among the 10 million people in the U.S. with low-vision due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), reading, writing, and other tasks can become a struggle. In most cases, AMD vision loss cannot be corrected; however, adjusting the lighting in your home may improve your ability to see more clearly and perform daily tasks.
With so many choices, understanding how each form of lighting works and how to use it in your home can help you make the best selection for your needs.
Watts Up With Lightbulbs?
Incandescent lights, which were once the standard, are no longer produced in the United States. Today, there are more lightbulb options than ever, and light fixtures are often created for a specific type of bulb. This makes it important to understand what type of light you want before you buy a lamp or light fixture. Here are the most popular type of bulbs and their pros and cons:
LED bulbs come in many shapes, sizes, and applications, from single bulbs to flexible multi-light tubes. Single bulbs work best for creating concentrated lighting in a flexible-arm lamp with a shade that directs the light downward. As a strip or multi-bulb fixture, they are also effective for tasks in the kitchen, garage, or other workspace. However, LEDs are not recommended for overall room lighting.
Halogen light is bright, “white,” and very concentrated. It’s often used in task lamps, track lighting, and ceiling fixtures, and is also available in adjustable gooseneck and flex-arm lamps. Halogen bulbs may grow hot, so you shouldn’t use them for too long, especially when close to the eyes.
Fluorescent light and CFLs produce less heat, use less energy, and are usually recommended for overall room lighting because they don’t create glare spots and shadows.
There are also specialized lightbulbs and lamps made specifically to assist people with low vision. You can find a list of options on the American Foundation for the Blind website.
Kelvin Is Key
When choosing lightbulbs to illuminate your home, the color of the bulb, rather than the wattage (W) -- the amount of electricity a bulb uses -- is the main thing to consider. But it may be helpful to understand that a 60W bulb is roughly equivalent to a 15W CFL (compact fluorescent tube), an 8W LED (light emitting diode), and approximately 800 lumens (lumen is an indicator of brightness).
While you’re examining that lightbulb package, pay close attention to its “K-rating.” Although light may appear to be colorless, it is defined by its temperature — which relates to its “color.” This temperature and color range is measured in a funny-sounding name called Kelvin (or K), which moves from warm to cool. The higher the K rating, the cooler and bluer the light. For example, a K rating of 2,700 produces a warm, or yellowish, light; a K rating of 4,500 produces a white light that is closest to true daylight; and a K rating of 5,000 or above produces a cool or “bluish” light.
Light Your Scene
Once you understand the types of lightbulbs available and the best places to use each type, it’s time to look at your home and determine where you most need the light. Experts agree that having several lights in a room, rather than one bright source of light, can provide you with the best visibility as you move throughout your home. Each form of lighting has advantages and serves specific purposes to help you go about your day -- and night -- without being limited by AMD.
Consider these ideas for customizing lighting throughout your home:
While the use of natural daylight is a good source for general home lighting, remember that daylight is blue light and can damage sensitive eyes. For this reason, natural light should be used within the home in indirect ways so that it doesn’t create glare, which can be harmful to your eyes. Use vertical blinds (not horizontal) to reduce glare and shift the direction of light coming into the room throughout the day. If you receive a lot of natural sunlight in your home, you might consider installing windows that have light-blocking filters.
Another primary light source in most homes comes from overhead lighting, including recessed bulbs, pendants or chandeliers, and ceiling fixtures. Wall sconces may also be used to add extra lighting on stairs and in hallways. Use uplighters to bounce light onto the ceiling and back into the room. Spotlights can be effective for lighting specific areas within a room but may also cause confusing bright and dark patches and glare if you use them alone. Consider putting overhead lights on dimmer switches to control the amount of light in the room at any given time.
For more concentrated light, task lamps can be used throughout your home. Position these lights below eye level so they shine on the task, not into your eyes. Swivel lamps are a great option for desks and worktables as you can easily raise, lower, or turn them toward the task at hand. You can create four times the light on your task by halving the distance between the object and the light source.
Shaded lamps are a good addition to living rooms, bedrooms, and dens because they provide light where and when needed throughout the day and evening. Use round paper or fabric shades in a light color to diffuse light and cut down on glare. Check the maximum bulb rating for light shades to make sure you use the right bulbs. And always use a shade that’s the proper size for the light fixture so that the bulb isn’t visible above the shade.
Kitchen chores are easier with proper task lighting, too. Pendant lamps installed over a kitchen island or workstation aim light where you need it. Undercounter LED lighting, especially with multiple light settings or on a dimmer switch, can be easily adjusted to provide the right amount of light for prepping and cleaning. LED lighting is also a safe and effective way to shed light inside cupboards and pantries.
Living with AMD can be challenging, but using the right lighting in your home can be an easy and relatively inexpensive way to compensate for low vision. With a few simple changes to your indoor lighting, you can help improve your vision indoors and protect your eyes.