Older adults, colour and design

Population ageing and the design of the built environment are receiving more attention. As with many aspects of inclusive design, it’s the small details that make a difference. Colour and colour contrast is one of those details for older adults.

Visual perception changes for many people as they grow older. So what colours and contrasts are most helpful? Two researchers found some answers.

A pile of brightly coloured squares sit untidily on top of each other. The colours are very bright.

The researchers found that vision loss and changes in visual perception are linked to disorientation in the environment. Disorientation can increase anxiety levels and impact wellbeing. Suggestions for improved orientation include:

  • Flooring that contrasts with walls so they don’t blend with each other
  • Alternate colours of floor coverings to indicate different purposes for each room
  • Floor tiling free of glare and shine
  • Door furniture should contrast with doors
  • Contrast between stairs and walls
Kitchen with white benches contrasting with the light brown floor.

Mono-coloured interiors can hinder orientation and identification of architectural elements. However, too many colours can overstimulate sensory perception. People who lose the ability to see bright colours, yellows and pastel colours appear white. Shades of blue, green and purple are seen as grey.

The paper includes detail of the study and includes images demonstrating the different colour choices. Some of it is related to residential care, but the findings are also relevant for individual homes. The discussion section makes links to human-centred design and universal design.

Colour is a powerful tool that can enhance the aesthetics of a design and help older adults feel independent and safe.

The colours of the rainbow arranged as a wheel

The title of the study is, Colour in the environment for older adults.

From the abstract

Moving in space is a multisensory experience. People use most of their senses such as sight, hearing, smell, and touch in addition to moving their bodies. How we feel indoors depends on the indoor climate, lighting, surface colours, air quality, floor plan, and furniture layout.

Studies show that the materials and colour of products have an impact on how we navigate a space, how we feel and, in some cases, they can even have healing effects. We investigate the association between colours in the environment and the orientation of older adults in living spaces.

We found colours have a significant impact on orientation in space and can be an effective tool for spatial orientation. Warm colour tones such as yellow, orange, and red are preferred over cold ones. Red tones are more easily recognizable for older adults who have a loss of colour recognition.

Colours and contrast in indoor environments help stimulate brain function, shorter reaction times and the perception of space.

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