Color is such an integral part of our lives – so much so that we probably don’t even think about not seeing in color. However, it hasn’t always been this way. Many people still remember when photographs were taken and printed as black and white images – now it’s a classic art form – a throwback. Television programs were broadcast in black and white until the early 1960s, and movies were produced in black and white for many years even though the color technology was available and used also. Many magazines were printed in black and white also.
Because we see in color, and there is color all around us, we appreciate watching TV, viewing online videos, looking at photos, and experiencing other events around us in color. For some people who did not grow up in the black and white era, the whole idea that TV programs were not always in color is hard to grasp unless they happen to see an old classic movie.
When it comes to both seeing in color and having color present in our aging in place designs, several factors need to be considered. One is the physical changes that occur in the eye that might affect how people see, perceive, and experience color. Another is the way that similar or vastly dissimilar colors affect their balance and mobility. Then, there are physical differences among us that allow some people to experience colors better than others.
In terms of the way people see and experience color in their lives, and especially in their living environments, we need to be sensitive to changes that occur with aging. For instance, it’s common for the lens of the eye to yellow and to affect how color is perceived. Blue light is also received differently by the eye with the yellowed lens. Cataract surgery does improve this condition. Otherwise, people will see the world around them with a yellow filter.
In addition to cataracts, there are other diseases of the eye and progressive conditions that people experience that can affect the quality of their vision in general and the overall perception and enjoyment of color around them.
Any conversation that deals with home safety, and particularly senior home safety, should involve the use of color in many different applications. Color is useful for creating interest and for establishing contrasts for visual appeal and safety. When color is used too much (strong contrasts) or too little (more of a monochromatic or low-contrast look), objects can appear too similar to one another or visual confusion or overstimulation can occur.
In the first instance of similar colors, something we call figure-ground, which is the ability to distinguish one or more objects resting on each other of the same tonal quality or in a very close registry, can create a safety, visual confusion, or cognitive issue. A white soup or salad bowl on a white plate or saucer of the same setting might be indistinguishable as two separate items. A white toilet seat on a white toilet might not be noticeable when someone goes to use it, and their depth perception and personal safety could be affected.
When flooring transitions from one level to another at room or doorway intersections or actual steps, colors and patterns that are the same color or very close in hue can make the change in elevation disappear visually. Obviously, this can be a safety and comfort issue. It could actually cause a stumble, fall, or twisted or sprained ankle.
When objects are too bold in terms of color, or there is simply too much variety of color being used – on walls, flooring, accessories, or furnishings – people can be overstimulated. They can become dizzy or mildly disoriented. They can attempt to look away and then stumble or walk into an object that otherwise they would have seen.
It can be a tricky balance to use using enough color – to give people a clear indication of where appliances, stairs, decks, doorways, seating, cabinets, toilets, bathing facilities, and other items around the house – but not so much as to create distractions or cause visual confusion or overstimulation to the point that someone is uncomfortable looking at what is in the room and participating in their living environment or worse, looking away or not watching where they are going.
Then, there is color blindness (red-green or blue-yellow, typically) that affects many people, and this affects how people perceive and experience color. This is something that a person is born with rather than acquiring in life; however many people suffer from an inability to distinguish between colors that are similar in tone.
There is a lot to consider in furnishing a person’s home – with various colors and intensities and shades of those pigments – to make it comfortable and convenient and to allow them to be safe in it.