Go Outdoors for Light

I have just read an article by Jack Carman, on “From Inside Out: Gardens Meet Unmet Needs”,  in this article he talks about the value of gardens to improve the quality of life for elders, in that it helps with appetite, sleep, Vitamin D absorption, balance, circadian rhythm and more health benefits.

 I appreciate this article as I love to garden, the sense of contentment and joy I receive from being out side and having my hands in the dirt and seeing plants grow is hard to replicate in any other experience.  I also enjoy the fresh air, the sound of birds and the warmth of the sun.  So this is no surprise to me that gardening can enhance and improve the lives of all of us as we age.

The majority of these benefits come from the experience of being outside and it is free.  Even on a cloudy day there is light that our eyes take in as well as is absorbed through any exposed skin.  These outdoor light levels are rarely available indoors in either a home or care community.

Quality of life is improved as exposure to the outdoors increases, unfortunately not everyone has access, for seniors who are dealing with mobility issues, loss of vision, or are living in a home in which accessibility to the outside is difficult.  Senios may live in a care community that doesn’t offer outside areas or the assistance to enjoy ones that are present.  These conditions can limit the ability to move inside and out.  This is something that must be considered and once the importance of being outside is recognized hopefully obstacles can be addressed.

Being outside for as little as 20 minutes a day can have a direct impact on some of the issues that can accompany the aging process, falls and broken bones, loss of appetite.  Having access to the natural light cycle can help with sleep, a staggering 80% of senior’s report problems with their sleep patterns.  Not only do gardens have the ability to meet unmet needs, sitting outside can help with some of these needs as well.

Aging Eyes

As we age our eyes age and change as well.  I first noticed a change in my vision when I could no longer see the hole in a needle to thread it.  I am now learning that this and other vision differences are a natural part of aging. 

The pupil doesn’t adapt as quickly to changes in lighting and there is a decrease in the amount of light that reaches the retina.  This can cause falls as eyes don’t adjust to changes in light levels as we transition from room to room or to and from the outdoors.  This can also cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm resulting in sleep disturbances.  Aging eyes also experience a loss of contrast sensitivity and depth perception which can affect many areas of our lives.  From how we move through rooms to the ability to eat when the food is light colored and plates are in the same color hues.

“At age 60 our eyes require 3 times as much light as they did at 20 and 2 times as much as when we were 30.  Most of the lighting guidelines where written with the 30 year old user in mind.”  Paul Eusterbrock, President of Holkotter International.

Eye diseases are also more prevalent in older adults:  cataracts- loss of clarity, glaucoma-loss of peripheral vision, macular degeneration- loss of center vision and diabetic retinopathy.  Lighting can either increase or decrease these symptoms, the individuals sensitivities and needs need to be assessed and considered.

Lighting in the environment can be critical for health, safety and the ability to live independent lives for all of us as we experience aging eyes or are dealing with an eye disease.