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I'm doing research for my culminating undergrad project on what kind of knives are appropriate for elderly persons, aged about 65-75 years old, and I've got three main questions:

  1. A gerontologist told me that the elderly usually prefer smaller knives, but why would that be? I would have thought bigger ones have more balance and more weight to cut through things.

  2. I'm focusing on arthritis as well, because about 50% of people aged 65 and older have some form of it. I've seen those kinds of knives that look like an upside-down scythe where the blade is below the handle. What other kinds of handles are ergonomic like this?

  3. Most importantly! I need advice on what kind of blade is high quality but long lasting (and keeps sharp for a long time). I've read that ceramic knives can break easily, so stainless steel is probably the way to go. Is carbon steel better, or a different material? And what about bevels? Do certain kinds stay sharper for longer than others?

Thank you!!

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I'm mentioning this as a comment because it only touches upon your question as stated, but look at the handles on just about anything made by Oxo Good Grips. I have problems in my hands very similar to what would be expected in the elderly. I dearly love that kind of ergonomic handle. –  Jolenealaska Dec 8 '13 at 5:38
    
I think we have a question about the different knife materials somewhere, but: All steel knives (including stainless) require routine sharpening. There are electric sharpeners where you just pull the blade through, though. Stainless can be run through a dishwasher, but it's not good for them (more frequent sharpening, shorter lifespan). Have you considered cleaning? Strikes me as that'd be a potential problem for someone with arthritis. –  derobert Dec 8 '13 at 15:52
    
@Jolenealaska If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that handles of a similar look will be ergonomic. This is not true. Oxo designs these handles specifically for each tool, taking into account how the tool is held during use, and what forces are applied where. If there is no Oxo-designed knife (or a knife by a different manufacturer who went through the same pedantic design process), a knife with a handle in this special look, or a handle of a different tool in which someone stuck a blade, won't be ergonomic. –  rumtscho Dec 8 '13 at 20:01
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@rumtscho I wish they DID make knives! I hope OXO knives are on the drawing board somewhere. The handles of OXO gadgets are different for every gadget, but they do have some common features: a certain heft without being heavy, shaped to kind mold into your hand in way you would hold the gadget for use, and made of material that has a little give. So, yeah, unfortunately you can't just cut a handle off of an OXO gadget and stick it on a knife, but I think you can look at and hold an OXO gadget and gain an understanding of why this works, and maybe look for some of the same things. –  Jolenealaska Dec 8 '13 at 20:27
    
Is there any reason to believe that ergonomics of knives, or what are good features in knives are different for seniors than for younger people? One would imagine superior design would be superior at all ages. The only thing I can think of that may differ is a preference for lighter knives if one is not as strong. –  SAJ14SAJ Dec 9 '13 at 8:40
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3 Answers

I can't say that I'm in that age range, but the issues might not be the knives themselves, but training them to properly use them.

  1. A large, heavy knife might do more of the work for you, but not if you're bringing the knife down for chopping ... you have to know how to slice through the item, which may require a larger cutting board (which itself is more heavy). It's a bit of a tradeoff -- having the weight in the right place but a smaller knife might be more beneficial than just simply a heavier knife to reduce the amount of torque that would be applied at the wrist.

    Paring knives aren't awful -- I know a few older folks who do all of their cutting in hand ... it's not fast, but it works for them. (and it's actually safer than it looks at first, especially if you've got a bit of a thumb callous, but I'm not sure how the shaky hands works out)

  2. In a previous queston about mezzalunas, Chaospearl mentioned that they're useful for people with arthritis.

  3. Carbon steel will hold a better edge, but you need to care for the knives. More important than focusing on the knives may actually be focusing on the cutting surface -- make sure they're using wood or plastic, and not cutting on a ceramic plate or glass cutting board, so they don't dull their knives quickly.

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Being in that age group & my wife also;

Steel;
I prefer high carbon steel to hold an edge, whether high carbon stainless or not.

Edge shape;
I shape the blade and sharpen the cutting edge myself, it's the only way to control the quality.
Highly polished for smooth nonstick cutting.
Sharp enough to not feel it, if accidentally cutting yourself.
When young I liked symmetrical convex edge, as I've lived and learned,
I now prefer one side flat, and the other convex, because they track straight while cutting.

Cross section angle;
Very keen for all knifes.
Large angle for meat cleaver.

Knife profile & size;
Sharp serrations on stake knifes (4” blade).
Wavy serrations on bread knife (13.5” blade, very long).
Slightly curve edge on vegetable cleaver (6.5” blade, 1mm thick).
Slightly curve edge on oriental kitchen knife (6.5” blade, 2mm thick, 3” deep).
Several chef knifes (8” blade).
Mezzaluna curve on a ulu knife (6.5” blade, 1mm thick).

Full tang whenever possible.
End grain cutting board.
Smooth sharpening steel (no ridges), I want to remove any wire edge, not create one.
Chicago Cutlery standard riveted wooden handle, with no burs or tang overhang.
Blade taper, I have found Messer is great.
Only my wife gets to cut with my knifes.

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You sound like somebody who is caring for his knives a lot. This is great on a personal level, but makes your answer very misleading for somebody who is trying to find a knife suited for the average senior out there, because you are very far from the average. –  rumtscho Dec 8 '13 at 20:04
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Sorry, I disagree with rumtscho. This is great advice for anyone from 15 to 95. The more well maintained your equipment is, the safer it is to use. He also gives great advice on the type of knives to buy and the best advice is to only let people you trust use them. I keep a couple of well maintained cheapies for my guests to use so I never have to gasp and grab my beauties from someone bent on destroying them. Since I am 75 I believe that I can say that there is no one style that is meant for “elderly” people. There are companies that make knives for different impairments and these should be investigated but there are as many different levels of skill in senior citizens as there are senior citizens and to try and say that one size fits all just will not work. I am using the same style of knives that I did 30 years ago. In fact, because I take care of them like Optionparty does his, they are the same knives. They are sharp so I do less work and I cut on a good surface so they don’t slip and cut me. By all means, ergonomic knives are great for those who need them but most people need education on care and use of their knives more.

@rumtscho I do have one knife that could be considered ergonomic. I don’t call it ergonomic; I just call it “The Perfect Knife”. It is by Geisser of Germany and is called Coltello D'arte I. I found an image of it at this site. http://www.oqvist.se/se/articleimage.php?id=18420&image=8474686&fullwidth=0&fullheight=0 I have had it 25 years so I don’t know if they still make it but it is wonderful. I have the small chef’s knife and it is as if it is made for my hand alone. The balance is great and it is just the right weight. It has one fault in that it needs constant homing but I usually do that anyway. For someone looking for a well shaped handle, this fits the bill.

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I don't think you understood what rumstcho was saying. Her entire point was that the blades that work for Optionparty are unlikely to work for most elderly people, or even just most people. She never said that maintenance wasn't important, or that knives are one-size-fits-all. –  Jefromi Jan 25 at 2:05
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