Essential Kitchen Features For Older People

Essential Kitchen Features For Older People

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Everyday kitchen tasks can become harder in later life. We identify a range of options to help, from choosing the right appliances to buying simple tools that make kitchen tasks easier and safer.

Kitchen appliances for older people

Making a few small adjustments to your kitchen appliances to ensure they suit your needs can make a big difference to your confidence in the kitchen. 

Ovens and hobs

If you’re beginning to find it difficult to use the cooker, maybe because of impaired vision or reduced strength or dexterity, there are some products that can make the cooker easier to use.

  • Bumpons: these are self-adhesive raised dots, available from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). You can attach them next to the oven or hob settings that are used most frequently. Use them on other appliances, too, such as the microwave, dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Knob turners: knobs can become difficult to turn if they’re small or stiff, or if they require more than one type of action, such as pushing and turning at the same time. Knob turners that provide a large handle to grip are simple products that help to give extra leverage.

If you’re having trouble lifting food in or out of your oven or onto the hob, there are a couple of changes you can consider to make cooking as safe as possible. 

  • If carrying heavier items is an issue, get a trolley to move hot pans from the stove or oven to the work surface or kitchen table. 
  • Double-handled saucepans are also safer to lift than traditional pans, as you can use both hands.

Choosing a new cooker

If you’re having difficulties using the cooker, perhaps because the oven is too low or the hob is too high, think about buying a new one better suited to your needs. Look out for the following helpful features:

  • a large visual display, positioned where it can be easily read
  • large controls that are easy to read, use and reach, preferably at the front so you don’t have to lean over the hob
  • controls that don’t get hot when the hob or oven is being used
  • for a gas oven, look for automatic ignition for the hobs and oven, and an automatic cut-off function if the gas hob is turned on but not ignited
  • a built-in oven timer, with a clearly audible alarm.

If you’re finding it difficult to bend down to get to the oven, consider installing a separate oven at a height where you can easily see what’s inside and can place dishes on an oven shelf that’s level with a work surface. A pull-out shelf under the oven can make a useful temporary resting place for hot dishes.

For more help read our expert advice on buying the best built-in ovenbuying the best hob and buying the best freestanding cooker.

Microwave ovens

It’s true that microwaves aren’t as versatile as conventional ovens, but for certain tasks, a microwave can be very useful. They can cook or heat food more quickly, and are therefore more energy-efficient as well as being small and compact.

Here are some features to look for if buying a microwave for someone with limited mobility, dexterity or visual impairment:

  • a model that’s simple and straightforward to use – it’s unlikely you’ll need a great variety of settings or additional features
  • clear, large display panels
  • a built-in sensor to automatically adjust the cooking time
  • tactile controls are available on some models; and just as with conventional ovens, you can place raised dots (bumpons) near microwave controls
  • Some mini ovens or microwaves have a ‘talking’ feature, which is useful for people who are partially sighted. Among other things, they advise the user to ‘stir food’, ‘allow food to cool’ or ‘close door’.

For more detailed guidance, see our guide to buying the best microwave.

Choosing a new fridge-freezer

Buying a new fridge freezer is no longer a case of simply choosing between a freestanding or a built-in model – there are now more features to choose from than ever before. Models with the fridge at the top are usually best for older people, as they require less bending since fridges tend to be used more frequently than freezers.

Visit our guide to buying the best fridge freezer to help you work out which one suits your needs.

Choosing a dishwasher

Washing up can take a lot of time and energy. If space allows, consider installing a dishwasher. The best ones not only save time and effort but can be more efficient in terms of hot water and energy use. Several manufacturers now produce compact dishwashers that are approximately half the size of standard models and ideal for kitchens where space is limited or if you’re living alone.

Some useful dishwasher features to look out for include:

  • buttons for controls rather than electronic touch pads, which are more fiddly to use
  • buttons raised from, rather than flush to, the surface might be easier to deal with
  • anti-flood devices that stop a dishwasher from filling further if there is water in its base.

To help you choose a dishwasher, go to our dishwasher buying guide or find our recommendations of the best dishwashers for 2021.

Kitchen safety monitors and alarms

There are monitors available for detecting different risks in the kitchen and other areas of the home. As well as smoke detectors, which should be fitted in all homes, other detectors relevant to the kitchen include gas, heat and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as flood alarms to detect overflowing water.

Stove alarms are useful for people who are easily distracted or forgetful, and could leave the cooker turned on and unattended. Read more about stove alarms and other memory aids that help people with memory problems to stay safe at home – from smart pill dispensers to digital memory aids.

Monitors and alarms can also be incorporated into a telecare system which can send an alert to a monitoring centre or a carer if there’s a problem.

Turning taps on and off

Check that kitchen taps are well maintained and don’t require a high degree of strength to turn on and off. If you have trouble turning the taps, the following products can be helpful.

  • Tap turners: usually have a handle at one end and a ‘head’ at the other that fits over a tap head to give you more leverage. There are a range of turners available to suit different types of tap.
  • Lever taps: are easier to use than taps that need to be turned or twisted. They can be fitted to most sinks in place of the existing taps. Some systems have a single tap, instead of two separate hot and cold taps. If choosing this type, it’s important to check that the hot and cold settings are easy to see and select.

The kitchen kettle

If your kettle is becoming heavy to lift, look for one that’s lightweight or consider getting a travel kettle, as these are smaller and lighter. 

One-cup kettles boil enough water for only one cup and reduce the need for pouring – a task that’s often difficult if you have limited strength or dexterity.  

Electric kettles are generally safer than stove-top kettles because they have an automatic cut-off facility. The following features may also be useful:

  • a water level indicator that’s easy to read
  • a visual alert, such as a blue or red light, to show when the water is boiling
  • an on/off switch that’s easy to operate and is in an accessible position.

Read more about how to choose a kettle that’s easy to use.

Kettle tippers

Kettle tippers are special frames that fit most types of jug kettles. They enable you to tip the kettle and pour it without the need to lift it.

Tippers are suitable for people who have difficulty lifting the kettle and are at risk of scalding. You still need to be able to fill up the kettle, as it will be fastened into the tipper. Using a plastic jug can often be the best solution.

Instant hot-water taps

A good alternative to using a kettle is having an instant hot-water tap (also called boiling-water taps) fitted to the kitchen sink. These provide boiling water on demand. Although expensive, they offer several advantages over a kettle. They produce instant hot water for cooking and drinks. 

Find out more about the pros and cons of boiling water taps – are they worth it?

Safety tips for preparing food and drinks

  • Keep organised: Think about where food and everyday items are stored. Make sure items you use regularly are easy to access – not too high up or low down, and not too far back within a cupboard. Adding labels to cupboards or drawers can also be helpful if you sometimes forget where certain items are stored.
  • Sit down to prepare food: If you’re struggling to move around or stand up in the kitchen, try to keep an area clear where you can sit down while preparing food. Alternatively, consider a perching stool, which can be useful as long as there is space for your knees under a work surface.
  • Use a trolley: If you are sufficiently mobile, it can be helpful to use a trolley to move food and drinks from the kitchen to another room. Ensure there’s enough room to use the trolley, particularly when turning around, and no rugs or loose carpets that could stop the trolley moving.
  • Use adapted cutlery or utensils: there is a wide range of products available for those finding it difficult to manage with standard utensils. These range from angled cutlery, cutlery that serves multiple functions and knives with a rocking edge that work without using the sawing action of a standard knife, to specially adapted plates, bowls and mugs that make eating and drinking easier. Many examples can be found on the Living Made Easy website of the DLF disabled charity.
  • Ready-prepared meals: If it’s too difficult to cook your own food, it’s possible to get in ready prepared meals and freeze them. Companies such as Wiltshire Farm Foods and Oakhouse Foods provide a home delivery service with a wide range of meals.

Identify your needs

If you’re unsure which aids would be most useful, or need further information, it is worth making an appointment with an occupational therapist (OT), who can help to assess your needs and make recommendations.

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