Kitchen image

Good layout and design of kitchens can make preparation of food and drink easier and thus facilitate independent living for people with sight loss and dementia.

What do the ticks mean?

Three ticks helps or is of benefit to most people

Two ticks helps or is of benefit to some people

One tick helps or is of benefit in specific circumstances

Question mark

means that this aspect of design needs to be considered carefully before being adopted


Three ticks Additional lighting in kitchens helps to make the most of people’s sight, e.g. providing strip lights under cabinets and placing additional lighting in fridge and freezer compartments.


Three ticks Some people find it helpful to be able to sit down whilst working in the kitchen. Having a worktop set at an appropriate height and with space underneath for a chair or stool allows them to do this.

Colour and contrast

Three ticks It can be helpful to people to make use of contrast in the kitchen. For example, contrasting handles or knobs on cupboard doors and kitchen drawers are more easily identifiable. Contrast can be achieved using colour, e.g. red coloured handles on white kitchen fittings, or a contrasting tone of the same colour, e.g. dark blue handles on pale blue cupboard doors.

Three ticks Worktops which are of a solid colour rather than patterned and which have a matt finish to them are easier for people to work at, since matt finishes result in less glare than highly polished gloss finishes, and solid colours reduce the possibility of visual clutter.

Two ticks Some people benefit from light coloured worktops in the kitchen as lighter colours help to maximise the distribution of light and to make the most of people’s visual capabilities. This is not the case for everyone, so it is important to find out people’s personal preferences when considering changes.

Ovens, hobs and microwaves

Three ticks Controls which are at or on the front of hobs and cookers stop people from having to reach over a heat source when using the appliance.

Three ticks People find microwave ovens with control panels that incorporate tactile feedback e.g. concave buttons, or buttons of different sizes and colours, easier to use. Handles are more intuitive than buttons for opening microwave doors.

Three ticks Tactile markings help people to find key temperatures on dials.

Three ticks People find microwave ovens with audible sounds to signal the end of microwaving easier to use.

Two ticks Providing an easy-to-use microwave oven in the kitchen may encourage people to carry out their own food preparation.

Cupboards and cabinet design

Two ticks Some people may find sliding cupboard doors or spring loaded doors useful because these remove the risk of injury as a result of walking into doors left open.

Two ticks Some people may find transparent cupboard doors helpful as a way to identify contents. It may be better to avoid glass in favour of other, more shatterproof clear materials because using glass can present a safety risk.

Two ticks Some people may find slide out cupboard shelves useful to increase storage space, allow better organisation of cupboards and improve ease of access.

One tick Some people might find that recessed handles on cupboard doors are useful to prevent the risk of bumping into handles which stand proud of the door. Others may find recessed handles confusing, more difficult to locate and more difficult to use. It is important to ask people about their preferences and balance risk reduction against supporting individual choice.

Question mark Points for reflection and further consideration

Kitchens can present many potential dangers to any person using them, from hot appliances to sharp kitchen utensils to cabinets and their contents set at head height. The risks of injury are greater for people with dementia and sight loss than for people who have good vision, but it is important to balance potential risks against people’s right to make choices about their homes and the need to facilitate and promote people’s independence.

Research evidence

Literature review

We conducted a structured literature review which involved systematic searches of a wide range of electronic databases, complemented by consultation with expert informants who were asked to recommend materials (such as reports) that the searches might not have identified. The searches yielded 14,616 ‘hits’. 14,043 were discarded as either duplicates or not relevant, and the remaining 573 were scored for relevance on the basis of title and abstract. In total 33 publications were included for full text review: 28 based on relevance scores, and 5 items recommended by expert informants.

These were systematically evaluated using a proforma which enabled assessment of the quality of the research reported, and assembled key information regarding the subject matter, results and conclusions of each item. The quality criteria used to assess different types of research were drawn from standard protocols including Centre for Research and Development (CRD) Report No 4, Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) checklists and, as appropriate, Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) assessment criteria (NHS CRD 2001; Cochrane EPOC 2002; CASP undated). Each publication was rated as being of High, Medium or Low quality, based the extent to which the research as reported in the publication meets the relevant quality criteria, and an overall rating was provided for each of the sections within the guidelines. Publications rated as being of lower quality are still of evidential value, but should be regarded as providing suggestive rather than definitively evidenced findings.

We assessed the overall quality of published evidence for guidelines in this section as Low. We based the guidelines on evidence contained in the following publications:

  • Goodman, C. and Watson, L. (2010) ‘Design guidance for people with dementia and for people with sight loss’, Thomas Pocklington Trust Research Findings Number 35 [document on the internet]. December 2010 [cited 2013 Nov 29]. Available here (and full report available on request from Thomas Pocklington Trust).
  • Kondo, T., Mann, W.C., Tomita, M. and Ottenbacher, K.J. (1997) ‘The use of microwave ovens by elderly persons with disabilities’, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 51(9), 739-747.
  • Long, R.G. (1995) ‘Housing design and persons with visual impairment: Report of focus-group discussions’, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 89(1), 59-69.
  • Unwin, B.K., Andrews, C.M., Andrews, P.M., & Hanson, J.L. (2009) ‘Therapeutic home adaptations for older adults with disabilities’, American Family Physician, 80(9), 963.

Our expert interviewees said

  • People with sight loss may find contrasting edging to units helpful

People with dementia and with sight loss and their carers
taking part in interviews and focus groups told us

  • The colour and contrast of units and worktops can make it easier to see things
  • Glass fronted cupboards can pose a risk as glass may not be seen and people risk putting their hand through this. Also glass fronted kitchen units may not be a good choice for people with poor balance
  • Microwaves are good as you can set the timer and will not burn anything if you forget about it
  • In residential care settings, residents may prefer to have staff prepare meals and serve teas and coffees. There are health and safety issues with residents using water heaters for making tea or coffee

The survey found

  • Out of 66 people who answered questions on this section, 70% thought that guidelines on lighting would be ‘very helpful’ and a further 29% thought they would be ‘helpful’
  • When people were asked to either agree, disagree or say that they were unsure about a series of statements, the highest levels of agreement were in relation to: having lighting inside fridge and freezer compartments (99% agreed); use of additional lighting in kitchens (97% agreed); importance of colour and contrast in kitchens (96% agreed); use of tactile markers to highlight key temperatures/operating options on kitchen appliances (91%)
  • The highest levels of disagreement or uncertainty were in relation to: use of recessed handles for safety reasons (33% disagreed, 47% not sure); desirability of avoiding glass in kitchen unit doors for safety reasons (30% disagreed, 36% not sure); avoidance of dark colours for kitchen worktops (12% disagreed, 43% not sure)

Selected quotes from people completing the survey

  • ‘There must be provisions for people who would want to sit and prepare food in the kitchen. A lower table height is preferred by those with mobility and arthritis problems.’
  • ‘What might be relevant in a domestic setting might not be appropriate in more communal facilities. For example, the issue of glass doors would be one of individual preference / suitability because there are advantages / disadvantages to both statements.’
  • ‘Sliding doors and shelves could be an advantage but also might confuse people with dementia, as it is a relatively new idea, and they are unlikely to have come across them in their past.’
  • ‘My answers are based upon the reaction to / use of these items by my dementia suffering friends. Glass doors may not suit everyone but they aid immediate recognition which leads to more confidence in the kitchen. So far none of my friends could cope with the speed/extreme temperatures of a microwave.’
  • ‘To be honest my dad can't work much of our kitchen out.’