More ‘awareness’ over kitchen design for older people vital, say Loughborough researchers

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Kitchen manufacturers and suppliers need to be more aware of the needs of older people, according to research by Loughborough academics.

Consumers, too, must play their part, if they want a kitchen that fits their requirements and enables them to be independent and stay in their home longer.

The need for better communication between all parties is one of the major findings of a study called ‘Transitions in Kitchen Living’, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme.

Dr Martin Maguire, one of five* academics from Loughborough’s Design School involved in the research with people aged 60 to 90 plus, said: “The main message from the study is a need for better awareness, particularly among manufacturers, consumers and suppliers.

“Benefits can be achieved by providing kitchens that better meet people’s abilities and needs, especially when the agenda is for people to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

“People need to be aware of what is possible, what is available and how to provide it.

“In having that discussion with the provider, and also the fitter, quite a lot can be done to help people.”

The team of researchers, led by Professor Sheila Peace, from the Open University, interviewed 48 people from Loughborough and Bristol, living in a variety of homes, from detached houses, to apartments, to sheltered accommodation.

Some of the problems they found included:

  • Wall cupboard shelves too high
  • Poor lighting, especially in the cooking area
  • Window handles difficult to reach
  • Sinks and worktops at an inconvenient height
  • No place to sit at worktops

Dr Maguire said that, as a result, people came up with coping strategies to overcome problems, like using stools or steps, installing table lamps or stick-on LED lights.

He said that kitchens better-designed for a person’s needs would eliminate such problems. For example, pull-down wall cupboards, adjustable height sinks and worktops, and mid-level ovens to eliminate the need for bending down.

He said kitchen specialists were providing kitchens that met the needs of older people but these were expensive. Mainstream suppliers, he said, had to buy into the same ideas.

The researchers also surveyed another similar group to ask which innovations would help them most, and the most popular, among 93 per cent, was an automatic turn-off for electrical appliances like irons and cookers.

Professor Peace said the kitchen was an essential part of the house for older people who wanted to stay in their own home.

She said manufacturers did not think there was a market for kitchens for older people but added: “On retirement many people may be keen to make changes, and they often replace equipment.”

She continued: “There are many things that are not being addressed in the design of kitchens that can be important to people of all ages, but particularly older people.

“My dream for the future is that suppliers would want to provide an inclusive kitchen that takes on board some of these important features.”

  • Loughborough’s other researchers were: Colette Nicolle, Dr Russell Marshall, Clare Lawton and Dr Ruth Sims (now at Derby University).

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