Identifying your needs
Health and mobility issues can make everyday kitchen tasks become more difficult, but there are many ways that these can be solved with simple adaptations or devices and products designed to help you. The first step is to identify the areas where you need help – use this article as a starting point.
If you’re unsure on any of the following points, or need further information, it might be worth making an appointment with an occupational therapist (OT), who can help to assess your needs and make recommendations, if necessary.
Monitors and alarms
There is a range of monitors available for detecting different risks within the kitchen and other areas of the home. As well as smoke detectors, which should be fitted in all homes, there are other detectors particularly relevant to the kitchen for gas, carbon monoxide, and preventing fires and floods.
Stove alarms are also good for people who are easily distracted or forgetful, and could leave the cooker turned on and unattended, risking a fire. Products such as Innohome Stove Alarm, chosen by a panel of assistive technology experts who reviewed a range of memory aids for us, learns how you use the cooker (to prevent false alarms) and sounds an alarm when the cooker temperatures rise, before a fire ignites.
Monitors and alarms can also be incorporated into a telecare system so that they can also send an alert to a monitoring centre or a carer if there’s a problem.
Cooking and washing up can fill the room with heat and condensation, so good ventilation is a must. Ensure that all windows are simple to open and can be easily reached. A window pull (also known as a long-handled window reacher) can help open and close hard-to-reach windows. If the kitchen doesn’t already have an extractor fan, find out if it’s feasible to have one installed.
Turning taps on and off
Check that the kitchen taps are well maintained and don’t require a high degree of strength to turn on and off. If you have trouble turning the taps, the following products might be helpful.
- Tap turners: these devices usually have a handle at one end and a ‘head’ at the other that fits over a tap head to give you more leverage. There are a range of turners available to suit different types of tap, from crosshead tap turners to a universal fitting.
- Lever taps: these are often much easier to use than taps that need to be turned or twisted. They can be fitted to most sinks in place of the existing taps. Some lever-tap systems have only a single tap, instead of two separate hot and cold taps. If choosing these, ensure that they are simple to use. In particular, it’s important that the hot and cold settings are easy to see and select.
The kitchen kettle
If your kettle is becoming heavy to lift and tip, consider buying a travel kettle, as these are smaller and lighter to lift. Or, when choosing a full-size kettle, look for one that’s lightweight.
One-cup kettles boil enough water for only one cup, and reduce the need for pouring – a task that is often difficult if you have limited strength or dexterity.
Electric kettles are generally safer than stove-top kettles, because they have an automatic cut-off facility. Although stove-top kettles whistle to alert the user, they still need to be turned off manually. If you sometimes forget to unplug the kettle, a cordless variety can be particularly helpful. The following features may also be useful:
- a water level indicator that’s easy to read
- a visual alert, such as a blue or red light, to show when the water is boiling
- an on/off switch that’s easy to operate and is in an accessible position.
Read about easy-to-use kettles in Which? Home & garden.
Consider moving the kettle nearer to the sink and/or fridge, if this reduces the amount of walking you’ll need to do while carrying a filled kettle. Also think about positioning the coffee, tea and sugar near to the kettle.
Electric kettles are generally safer than stove-top kettles, because they have an automatic cut-off facility.
These are cradles that most types of jug kettles will rest on securely. They have a pivot action to help tip the kettle. Look for one with non-slip feet.
Tippers are suitable for people who have difficulty with lifting the kettle and are at risk of scalding. You still need to be able to fill up the kettle, as it will be fastened into the tipper. Using a plastic jug can often be the best solution.
Preparing hot drinks
Instant hot-water taps
A good alternative to using a kettle is having an instant hot-water tap (also called boiling-water taps or steaming hot-water taps) fitted to the kitchen sink. These provide boiling water on demand.
Although expensive, they offer several advantages over a kettle. They produce instant hot water for cooking and drinks.
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. They provide easy access to a hot drink throughout the day if you can no longer manage a kettle.
It’s worth bearing in mind that hot-water dispensers are generally more complicated to operate than kettles, so you might need help if you are beginning to lose mobility or strength in your arms.
Another option is to prepare a flask of tea or coffee in the morning to reduce the number of times you need to make a drink throughout the day.
An important part of preparing hot drinks safely is using the right cups and mugs, for example ones that have double or larger handles.
Organising the kitchen
Think about where food and everyday items are usually stored. Make sure that any items you use regularly are easy to access – not too high up or low down, and not too far back within a cupboard.
Adding labels to each cupboard or drawer can also be really helpful if you sometimes forget where certain items are stored.
Make sure that any items you use regularly are easy to access.
Message in a bottle
‘Message in a Bottle’ is a simple scheme run by Lions Club. It enables you to keep your basic personal and medical details on a standard form that you fill in and put in the bottle in the fridge. You then put one green sticker on your fridge door and the other green sticker on the inside of your house door.
This system saves the emergency services valuable time if they need to enter a property in an emergency situation, helping to identify who you are and also showing if you have special medication or allergies. Find out more about Lion Club’s Message in a Bottle scheme and how to get a bottle and order form on its website.
Sitting down to prepare food
If you’re struggling to move around and stand in the kitchen, the first thing to consider is whether it’s possible to sit down while preparing your food.
If there isn’t already a table and chair in the kitchen, you may be able to install a small set if there’s space.
Alternatively, consider a perching stool, which can be very useful in the kitchen as long as there is space for your knees under at least one work surface. Perching stools are invaluable for when you’re preparing food at a work surface to prevent you from becoming too tired or losing your balance.
When using a perching stool for washing up, there should ideally be knee room under the sink. These stools are available with and without padded arms.
If it’s difficult to cook your own food, it’s possible to get in ready prepared meals and freeze them. This can be a good option if you’re unable to leave the home, even if just for a short while after, say, a hip replacement operation. Organisations such as Wiltshire Farm Foods and Oakhouse Foods provide a wide range of meals, and include free home delivery with orders over a certain price range.
Moving food between rooms
It can be very helpful to use a trolley to move food and drinks from the kitchen to another room. If you’re thinking of buying one, ensure that:
- you are sufficiently mobile to use the trolley
- there are no thresholds that pose a barrier, such as in the doorway between the kitchen and living room
- there are no rugs or loose carpets that could stop the trolley moving
- there’s enough room to use the trolley, particularly when turning around.
Trolleys are not normally safe to use as a walking aid as they have four castors. Rather than using a trolley for support, think about buying a trolley with in-built brakes instead.
You could otherwise look for a walking frame with wheels (rollator) with a fitting for a tray.
Making a few small adjustments to your kitchen appliances to ensure they suit your needs can make a big difference to ...
Choosing the right independent living products can improve your safety and wellbeing, and give you greater independence.
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