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Developing age-friendly kitchens

Open University researchers are working with design and manufacturing teams to build kitchens that will allow people to remain in their homes as they age.

Key aspects of this research

  • The first to incorporate the views of older people into kitchen design.
  • Identified user-friendly design features of benefit to all ages
  • The easier kitchen: making it happen, a design guide for older people, kitchen designers, manufacturers and installers

Elderly women in a kitchen

More than 10 million people in the UK are over the age of 65, and the proportion of the population aged 85-plus is rising.

To enable this growing number of older people to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible, we need to make the home environment better adapted to their needs. This requires a radical re-think in the way we design one of the home’s central features, the kitchen.

Open University researchers are working with designers, planners, manufacturers and installers to build and promote the building of age-friendly kitchens.

Problems with current designs

Led by Open University Professor of Social Gerontology, Sheila Peace, the research is the first to extensively incorporate the views of older people into kitchen design.

The researchers interviewed people between the ages of 60-90 about their kitchen use, as well as conducting assessments of movement and behaviour within the kitchen in collaboration with Loughborough University's Design School.

They find that current kitchen designs typically cause users problems with reaching, bending, hearing, seeing and dexterity as they age.
Difficulties seeing cooker controls and reading packaged-food instructions are among some of the most common complaints. Measurements of lighting levels showed that food preparation areas are often the most poorly lit, falling well below the recommended minimum.

Practical recommendations

The research team has produced a design guide for older people, kitchen designers, manufacturers and installers based on its findings, called The easier kitchen: making it happen. Its recommendations are already being put into practice in kitchen designs in a supported housing project. 

"More user-friendly kitchen design would benefit everyone, not just older people," says Professor Sheila Peace.

“Not having to open windows across a sink; having work surfaces which are height-adjustable – these are just some of the things that could make kitchen life easier.

“There are lots of kitchen design issues which need more attention."

Importance of own home

The researchers also found that older people attach great importance to remaining in their own homes.

“We are sharing our findings with kitchen designers, planners, manufacturers and installers with the aim of getting the retail and design sector to sit up and take it on board,” she added.

Transitions in Kitchen Living is one of a number of Open University research projects aimed at advancing policy, practice and strategies for improving quality in later life. The Faculty of Health and Social Care at The Open University has a history of excellence in social gerontology, using participative methods to understand ageing across the life course and the interaction of older people with their material and social environments.

Professor Sheila Peace visits a kitchen to demonstrate good and less good aspects of kitchen design

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