Safety is a big concern when helping a senior live independently. One room of the house which is used often, but which also presents a number of serious safety hazards, is the kitchen. With a few modifications, a kitchen can become safer and easier to use for any senior living alone.
Here’s a closer look at the kitchen modifications recommended to help loved ones comfortably age in place – from the ceiling to the floor.
Smart Kitchen Cabinetry
High kitchen cabinets can be installed lower, fitted with pull-down trays, or replaced with open shelves so that spices, cups and plates are readily accessible for someone with limited mobility. Drawers are a great solution for making items simple to find and alleviate the need to crouch and search for them. Large drawers, set wider than 30 inches, can be used to store pots and pans.
Hanging cooking utensils, rather than storing them in kitchen cabinets, can make them more convenient to find and grab.
Lower Kitchen Counters
As seniors age, high kitchen countertops and workspaces may become difficult to use, especially if they use a wheelchair. There are a few different solutions, including modifying cabinetry to lower the counter or installing adjustable countertops. A kitchen table or wheelchair lapboard could also be used for meal preparation.
Well-Positioned Kitchen Appliances
In general, it’s best to have kitchen appliances that have push-button controls and which are easy to read. For some seniors living alone, it can be helpful to clearly mark the on and off positions on the appliances.
Wall-mounted ovens are easier to access for seniors with back problems. Often a small toaster oven can be used to quickly heat food in individual portions rather.
Stovetops with staggered burners and mirrors mounted above allow seniors using a wheelchair to reach back burners without injuring themselves. It’s important to insulate the cabinetry under the stovetop to protect the individual from heat transfer through the cooking surface.
To make lifting and handling hot food or heavy dishware safer, microwaves can be placed on a microwave stand rather than at the back of the counter or in raised cabinetry. A microwave drawer can also be a helpful solution for preventing spills, burns and extra strain; plus, it also frees up some counter space in the kitchen.
Refrigerator & Freezer
Standard side-by-side refrigerators and freezers can decrease the amount of bending and reaching necessary to collect food items. Exterior ice and fresh water dispensers can also make it easier for someone with a wheelchair or walker to get a glass of water.
Kitchen design for seniors living alone should be focused on granting easy access to the most used items. A pantry with glass doors, open shelving and pull-out trays can help them easily find what they are looking for without excess strain on their back or arms. Pull-outs can also be used to store small appliances like blenders and mixers.
To avoid unnecessary back pain or to make a kitchen sink usable for a senior in a wheelchair, the best solution is to install a one with a low, shallow basin or a height-adjustable sink. A simple fix for a deep sink is to is to insert a plastic or wire rack to raise the work surface which will facilitate washing dishes or vegetables.
We recommend installing pressure-balanced valves on kitchen faucets and opting for faucets with sprayer handles to make washing up simpler. Faucets should be well within reach and pedal-operated faucets may be a helpful modification to consider.
Be sure to set the hot water heater to limit the maximum temperature to 100-115oF to protect their delicate skin from scalding or burns.
Falls are one of the biggest potential dangers for seniors living alone. By simply changing the flooring, you can help decrease this risk. Slippery or worn kitchen tiles should definitely be replaced with tiles that have plenty of grout surface to ensure good grip. You could also consider vinyl flooring which is less difficult to clean and it’s textured to reduce slipping.
General Recommendations for Safe Kitchen Design
To modify a kitchen for a senior who lives alone, it’s best to avoid hard edges and 90-degree corners on counters and cabinetry. Rounded edges will help avoid bumps and bruises while maneuvering in the kitchen.
Kitchen remodeling projects should aim to make it safe to move about the room and cook. You’ll want to create plenty of handy storage spaces so that floors, countertops and work areas are free of clutter.
The addition of grab bars and railings are an easy way to make the kitchen a safer space for a senior living alone. Often they can help older homeowners feel more confident standing to prepare food and use the kitchen appliances. Walk through the space with him or her to find the best location for installing a grab bar.
Sharp utensils and knives should be stored in a rack rather than a drawer. Similarly, hazardous substances and cleaning supplies should be kept separate from food, preferably not in the kitchen. Be sure a fire extinguisher that is readily available and that your loved one is able to use it if necessary. Check that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are operational and have fresh batteries.
If home modifications or mobility products are needed to make living at home more safe and secure, contact Sage at (610) 269-2935 or request a consultation using the form below to find out how we can help.