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Annette J. Wick - Adding Color to Our Lives as We Age

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In Jenny Joseph’s famous poem, Warning, she writes, When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. Perhaps this poem is familiar, or the words recall the proliferation of Red Hat Clubs in the mid-1990s.

The Scottish poet would wear whatever color she felt like, not limiting herself traditions, such as wearing white pants only after Memorial Day, or only donning conservative navy or black tones for work clothes. And she wouldn’t care whether she looked good in that color or not.

Color is how we express our individuality. Yet, it plays an even greater role as we age, helping us to navigate our day, enliven our workspaces, and express who we are, no matter what stage of life we are in.

Design and Color

In the 1970s, my parents built a family home where my mother picked out sea foam green carpeting and apricot furniture accents for the dining and living room. Our bedroom paint colors included two shades of blue, yellow, pink, and another apricot color. The home exuded color. After we grew up and moved out, my mother returned the rooms to a customary cream base. It was difficult to return, knowing how color had been drained out of the home.

How do we see and act upon color changes as our bodies and eyesight change? We develop a condition called presbyopia in which the crystalline lens of the eye loses it flexibility and elasticity. Vision expert Marilyn Schneck says design needs to consider this fact.

In her study about aging eyesight, nearly half of the subjects in their mid-70s and two-thirds in their mid-90s “confused pale colors in the blue-green region of the spectrum with other pale colors. Blue and green become more difficult to tell apart than red, yellow and orange.” She attributes this largely to the yellowing of the lens, an occurrence which begins the day we’re born.

While current design trends remain focused on neutrals and grays, according to the American Institute of Architects, “color is a powerful tool that can not only improve design aesthetics, but also play a role in helping older individuals be more independent and comfortable in their living spaces.” We begin to see color differently, possibly through blurred vision or due to light sensitivity. Pale colors fade away. One should consider the use of bright color on the warm end of the spectrum. Think sunshine without the sheen.

Color on Us

If color is altered as the health of our eyesight declines, should we change what we wear or other aspects of our appearance?

As we age, we lose that cherry pink flush in our cheeks and facial tones shift to a low light pink profile. It’s no wonder that older individuals are attracted to Florida or Arizona if they live in one of the Midwest states beset by gray and cold. The sun’s rays help to add rosiness to their faces. There are other habits related to color we also develop. Men wear hats that emphasize their profile or add warmth to their expressions. Women add highlights to their hair to combat gray strands. They add reading glasses with colored frames or more outlandish sunglasses to their repertoire. And of course, rarely leave the house without a ribbon of some red shade on their lips. Even in her dementia, my mother’s hands knew how to draw the swath around her mouth.

As we age, we lose that cherry pink flush in our cheeks and facial tones shift to a low light pink profile. It’s no wonder that older individuals are attracted to Florida or Arizona if they live in one of the Midwest states beset by gray and cold. The sun’s rays help to add rosiness to their faces. There are other habits related to color we also develop. Men wear hats that emphasize their profile or add warmth to their expressions. Women add highlights to their hair to combat gray strands. They add reading glasses with colored frames or more outlandish sunglasses to their repertoire. And of course, rarely leave the house without a ribbon of some red shade on their lips. Even in her dementia, my mother’s hands knew how to draw the swath around her mouth.

The day my mother passed away, her caregiver became upset because she could not locate my mother’s favorite short-sleeved apricot shirt with flower designs and sequins. For so many years, her standard uniform had been a cream blouse and black pants. As her memory declined, she let go of some inhibition and I added more colorful tops to her wardrobe. Someone who had come through so much in life should be given the opportunity to leave this world wearing what made her happy. The memory of this apricot color, like that she selected for her dream home, stays with me.

Known as a defiant and slightly eccentric poet, Jenny Joseph ends her poem “But maybe I ought to practise a little now? So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised when suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Color is not only important to daily interactions of those we love, how they view themselves, but how we remember them in the end.

 

Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer, speaker, and author of I’ll Have Some of Yours, a journey of cookies and caregiving. (Three Arch Press) and is a recipient of a 2020 NSNC award. A frequent contributor to Cincinnati.com, her work has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, nextavenue.com, Shanti Arts, 3rd Act Magazine, and others. Visit annettejwick.com to learn more.