Designing A Kitchen For The Elderly
Designing A Kitchen For The Elderly
December 18, 2021
Safety, accessibility, and ease of use impact every facet of designing the kitchen for the elderly – be it the selection of materials, appliances, lighting, zoning, or even the colour palette.
As the human body grows older, even simple tasks can become more difficult and daunting. For senior adults often doing basic movements require a lot of effort and this includes working in the kitchen. The kitchen is the centre of the home, but when someone is unable to safely or easily move through this important hub, life becomes difficult. Navigating through slippery floors, searching for utensils in deep drawers under poor lighting can be a nightmare for many senior adults. This necessitates sensitivity on the part of the designers while they are designing kitchens for the elderly or multi-generational users.
A kitchen for the elderly requires careful planning and execution. Shabnam Gupta, Principal Designer, The Orange Lane explains, “While designing for elderly, it’s crucial to remember that tasks we see as simple and routine becoming daunting and exhausting as age progresses. The ease of access and functionality of the space is more important than the aesthetics.”
Natural light is almost as crucial as artificial light. An ideal design would have a combination of ceiling, sink, and countertop lights along with natural light to help the elderly spot and access items better.
Studio Padmini Pandey
Technology plays a major role
However, little adjustments to the kitchen design can greatly improve the way elderly residents use the kitchen space. A senior-friendly kitchen design not only makes it safe for them but also being able to work independently in the kitchen can uplift their mood and overall wellbeing.
Shyamala Prabhu, Principal Architect, Aakruti Architects and Designers, and Chairman of IIID – Bangalore Regional Chapter agrees that with the right technology and right design, the elderly can operate in a kitchen safely. She says, “The modern kitchen has evolved in a way to take care of all age groups. For example, appliances with a soft touch and soft closing are very safe even for senior citizens to use. Using hardware that is safe to operate is very useful. There has been a lot of research into making kitchens safer. For instance, there are now kitchen appliances that can respond to voice. Using this technology senior citizens can direct the kitchen to set a timer, operate basic appliances like a coffee maker, turn on the lights, or things to open. So even if they have limited reach or are using a wheelchair, they can still operate in the kitchen.”
With technology reaching new heights, Shabnam feels that it can be easily used to the designer’s advantage in making the kitchen a safer place for the elderly. “Some key areas where technology can be helpful would be lighting automation. It is one of the most popular home automation features. A motorized sink or adjustable height countertop offers freedom of adjustment, particularly for wheelchairs. An easily accessible medical alert device will allow an elderly resident to quickly notify medical personnel if an accident should occur in the kitchen. Prioritizing the kitchen as a room that should be in reach of a smoke detector is also a good idea.”
Photo Courtesy: The Orange Lane
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The appropriate lighting
The first and foremost design element that can be addressed is the lighting. Insufficient lighting or hard-to-operate light switches can be dangerous in the kitchen for seniors.
Elderly people suffering from arthritis and joint pain find it difficult to turn light switches on and off. An easy way to solve this problem may be to use digital or smart switches instead of regular light switches. “A well-lit kitchen is a safe kitchen for senior citizens Also placement of switches so that it’s easily accessible for use is important. A good feature would be to install a panic switch,” says Shabnam.
With old age comes poor eyesight and working in a dimly lit kitchen is nothing short of a nightmare for them. But again, harsh light can be hard on the eyes. Installing task lighting above workstations, below upper cabinets, and in storage spaces can help seniors navigate the kitchen space better. Natural light as well as a combination of ceiling, sink, and countertop lights are also useful.
Padmini Pandey, Principal Architect, Studio Padmini Pandey says preference is given to white and warm lights when designing a kitchen for the elderly. “Natural light is almost as crucial as artificial light. An ideal design would have a combination of ceiling, sink, and countertop lights along with natural light to help the elderly spot and access items better.”
Photo Courtesy: Aakruti Architects and Designers