Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Kitchen Living in Later Life: Exploring Ergonomic Problems, Coping Strategies and Design Solutions

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Kitchen Living in Later Life: Exploring Ergonomic Problems, Coping Strategies and Design Solutions

Article excerpt

Introduction

The kitchen environment needs to be both comfortable and usable if it is to support independent living for older people. The Transitions in Kitchen Living (TiKL) study presented here, was a project within the UK Research Council's New Dynamics of Ageing programme (2006-2013). The aim of this research was to develop a holistic approach to understanding person-environment fit (Peace, Wahl, Mollenkopf, & Oswald, 2007) leading to informed design practice. In bringing together ergonomists and social gerontologists, it began by recording memories of kitchen life as an important record of social history and then to investigate people's experiences of their current kitchen, whether it suited their capabilities and needs or required them to adopt coping strategies. This paper reports on the contemporary kitchen experience from an ergonomics perspective and identifies the problems faced and strategies adopted. A central aim of the study was to produce guidance for older people to help them perform kitchen tasks more easily and make adaptations to the kitchen to match their evolving needs.

The TiKL research builds on earlier studies. Design recommendations for comfort and safety in the kitchen design are offered by Moore and Ostrander (1992), Câmera (2010), Lin (2008), Huppert (2003) and Odén, Beck-Friis, & Östlund (2010). Guidance concerning domestic lighting was provided through the Thomas Pocklington Trust (2010). These studies and guidelines highlight some key design needs for people in later life: enabling the maintenance of their habitual setting with as little change as possible; maintaining rhythms and balances if a change of setting is necessary, and enabling them to continue being able to operate and learn independently. The kitchen has been found to be an environment that can enhance the quality of life for older and disabled people (Oliver, Gyi, Porter, Marshall, & Case, 2001). This study develops this work by reviewing current problems, how people manage them and offering recommendations that others could follow without necessarily redesigning the whole kitchen.

Over the life course, person-environment (P-E) interaction may change and require management through greater congruence between the two (Peace et al., 2007). One area for ergonomic guidance is to provide dimensions for the kitchen environment such as heights of worktops and shelving. For example, a survey by Ward (1971 and 1972) of kitchen worktop and sink heights, which drew from research conducted between 1943 and 1968, produced a number of recommendations. Based on her empirical research using anthropometry, electromyography and subjective preference, Ward provided recommended work heights for different activity types for 95% of British female adults. These were sink height: 90-105cm, worktop 85-100cm and cooker 85-100cm with the suggestion that 3 or 4 different height levels should be provided within each range. More recently, Kishtwaria, Mathur and Rana (2007) performed a study using physiological measures with 30 female urban homemakers in India and produced some optimum work top heights for kneading dough (79cm), chopping (84cm) and cooking (96cm). In America it is thought that the next trend will be to have taller kitchen counters (for example 42 inches or 106.7cm) to prevent the need to hunch over when handling food especially for people above average height. They would also allow for more drawer and counter space. However as Ward (1972) states, choosing a best single height does not solve the problem for individual users who may need a customized height for them, thus highlighting the need for an adjustable kitchen.

The aim of the TiKL interview study was to identify problems that older people face when using their kitchen and to identify coping strategies and practical solutions that they have created to overcome them and which could be adopted by others. A further aim was to see how these ad hoc solutions could inspire new designs for inclusive kitchens to support independent living for older people and become inclusive design features. …

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