8 simple ideas to improve contrast perception for low vision clients while living at home

Aging reduces an older adult’s ability to discern objects against a background of a similar or related color; this is called contrast.  Several factors are involved in the decline of contrast perception; such as, structural changes in the cornea or lens, diminished sensitivity to retinal receptors, and illness/disease associated with the eye (i.e., Cataracts, Corneal Disease, Glaucoma, and Retinal Pathology).  Examples of how contrast impacts older adults on a daily basis are: the cut out edge of a curb; gray concrete steps without a clearly marked edge; or stairs with carpeting that have a confusing pattern.   Individuals with vision loss can find it very difficult to distinguish between colors and detect differences between light and dark areas.  For this reason, opposites such as black and white offer the best contrast.  Contrasting a dark color against a light one such as, blue against white and yellow against violet, is more effective than orange against red because they are too close to each other in the color spectrum to provide enough contrast.  When evaluating an individual with vision loss, it is important to account the following environmental factors: kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedrooms, hallways, and entry points.  Here are some ways that color and contrast can be used to improve contrast perception while at home:

     1.   Solid bright colors such as red, orange, and yellow are easier to see.

     2.   Lighting can influence the perception of color. Dim lighting can make some

            colors more difficult to see; whereas, bright lights can intensify them.

     3.   Colors can also be used for safety purposes as an indicator of change in surface or

           level such as on steps or doorway thresholds.

      4.   Color and contrast can help with judging depth perception.

      5.   Increasing the contrast between an object and its background will make the object

           more visible.

     6.   Signage (i.e., names and numbers on doors)

     7.   Furnishings (i.e., patterns of fabric)

     8.   Solid bright colors such as red, orange, and yellow are easier to see

The above recommendations may facilitate ease of movement around the living environment and minimize/ prevent personal injuries while at home.

By Esther Gonzalez, MS, OTR/L, Bil TSHH

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