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How to Design a Kitchen for the Elderly

Eventually, we all will need to modify our living environment --- including our kitchen. Universal design offers spaces that treat "disability" as a relative term, recognizing that all people have "special needs", whether tall, short, physically challenged or elderly; and that needs vary within each individual's lifetime. Universal kitchen design provides some options that are convenient for anyone, but particularly well-suited to elderly users.

Step 1

Establish priorities by taking inventory of the needs of household members. Perhaps someone has a chronic condition that means they will eventually need an assisted living device like a wheelchair. An elderly member of the household may be much shorter than others or need help in the kitchen.

Step 2

Plan for varying mobility requirements. This may mean allowing five feet between counters and islands or arranging space to minimize the need to walk between preparation areas and cooking appliances. Add pull-out counters under microwaves and ovens to allow hot food to be put down without the need to turn around or move to another counter.

Step 3

Provide standard or adjustable counter-height workspace. Counter height has been creeping higher in new homes but our parents --- and anyone in a wheelchair --- find them inconvenient. Place ovens and microwaves on walls where they can be approached at eye level to make them more accessible.

Step 4

Buy appliances with safety features convenient for wheelchair users. Side-by-side refrigerator freezers, in-door ice and water dispensers, side-open ovens, convection stove tops and front-mounted controls all simplify use and make appliances more accessible. Leave open space under adjustable work counters that can be raised or lowered four inches.

Step 5

Build in convenience by including at least 60 inches of "prep" and cleanup space next to range tops, ovens and refrigerators. Install pull-out storage in base cabinets and pull-down racks in upper cabinets. Specify pull-out shelves on rollers in appliances and cabinets.

Things You Will Need

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Scaled (architect's) rulers
  • Cabinetry and appliance catalogs

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.