Here we look at choosing the most suitable cooker, microwave and kettle for older people. We also suggest useful products for preparing food and opening packaging.
Using the oven or hob
If your relative is having difficulty using the cooker, maybe because of impaired vision or reduced strength or dexterity in their fingers, these two additions may well be of use.
These are self-adhesive raised dots, available from the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), which can be attached next to the oven or hob settings that are used most frequently. Use them too on other appliances, such as the microwave, dishwasher and washing machine.
Knobs can be difficult to turn if they are small or stiff, or if they require more than one type of action, such as pushing and turning at the same time. Knob turners are simple products that help to give extra grip and leverage.
Choosing a new cooker or microwave
If your relative is having difficulty in using their existing cooker, it may be worth buying a new one. Your relative may benefit from a cooker that includes one or more of the following:
- a large visual display, positioned where it can be read with ease
- colour-contrasted controls, such as a white unit with brown or black controls
- large controls that are easy to use and easy to reach, preferably at the front so your relative does not have to reach over the hobs
- controls that do not get hot when the hob or oven are being used
- for a gas oven, automatic ignition for the hobs and oven
- an in-built oven timer; if your relative does not hear well, check this is suitably loud and at a frequency/pitch that can be heard.
If your relative finds it difficult to bend down to get to the oven, a mini oven might be helpful. These are small, stand-alone ovens that can sit on a kitchen worksurface, preventing the need to bend low to lift hot, and potentially heavy, cookware.
Microwave ovens are sometimes considered to be a poor substitute for conventional ovens. It’s true that they aren’t as versatile, but for certain tasks a microwave can be very useful. They often cook or heat food more quickly and are therefore more energy-efficient as well as being small and compact.
If your relative hasn’t used a microwave before, they might find the thought of using one quite daunting. Discuss the idea with them, to see if it’s something they feel happy and confident in introducing to their kitchen. There are a number of simple and short video guides on the internet, which could serve as a good introduction.
If your relative does decide to buy a microwave, then consider looking for:
- a microwave that is simple and straightforward to use – it is unlikely your relative will need one with a great variety of settings or additional features
- clear, large display panels
- tactile controls, available on some models. Just as with conventional ovens, raised dots (Bumpons) can also be placed near microwave controls.
Talking ovens and microwaves
Some mini ovens or microwaves have a ‘talking’ feature, 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 information, see this page on the Living Made Easy website and see also the Which? guide to easy-to-use-microwaves.
Choosing a new fridge freezer
Models with the fridge at the top are best, as these require less bending (fridges tend to be used more frequently than freezers).
If your relative is struggling to use their kettle, there are three potential solutions: buying a product to help with the existing kettle, buying a new kettle or considering an alternative hot-water device.
Kettle tippers are cradles that most types of jug kettles will securely rest on. They have a pivot action to help tip the kettle. Look for one with non-slip feet.
Choosing a new kettle
Consider purchasing a travel kettle, usually smaller and lighter to lift. If choosing a full-size kettle, look for one that is lightweight. Electric kettles are generally safer than stove-top kettles, because they have an automatic cut-off facility, whereas stove-top kettles produce a whistle to alert the user, but still need to be turned off manually.
The following features may also be useful:
- a water level indicator that is easy to read
- a visual alert, such as a blue or red light, to show when the water is in the process of boiling
- an on/off switch that can be operated with ease and is in an accessible position.
Which? members can read reviews of on the main Which? website.
Instant hot water taps
A good alternative to using a kettle is having an instant hot water tap (sometimes also called boiling-water taps or steaming hot water taps) fitted to the kitchen sink. These provide boiling water on demand, which can be used for making tea and many other tasks. They offer several advantages over a kettle: they don’t need to be tipped, and there are no leads or cables.
Hot water dispenser
These are stand-alone devices that plug into the mains and boil hot water, usually one cup at a time, but with the mug placed directly under a dispenser. However, be aware that these are generally more complicated than kettles, with parts that need to be removed to be filled or cleaned.
Handling food and food packaging
Handling food, food packaging and kitchen utensils can become more difficult if your relative has lost strength and grip in their hands. There are a number of products that may help:
- Jar and bottle openers or holders are designed to improve grip and/or leverage when opening jars, bottles or tins.
- Ring pull openers are specifically designed to help open tins with ring-pull lids.
- Electric tin openers are useful for people who sometimes lack the strength in their hands to use a manual tin opener.
- Spike boards hold fresh vegetables in place while you peel them.
- Butter boards hold bread in place while you butter the slices.
- Anti-slip kitchen mats can be used for jars, tins and fresh food to prevent items slipping away.
- There is a wide range of cups and mugs designed to prevent drinks from spilling. These are known by various names such as anti-spill cup and slip-proof mug.
- A wire cooking basket designed to fit inside a saucepan allows vegetables to be drained once they are cooked, without the need to lift and tip a heavy pan full of boiling water. The pan can then be emptied of its water later, when the water has cooled.
- Pans with handles on either side to help with lifting.
Read more about how you can ensure that your elderly relative gets the right balance of nutrients to stay healthy.
Page last reviewed: March 2015
Next review due: November 2016