The home has many hazards for a senior, especially if they are combating dementia or other health conditions. The kitchen is one area of the house where older adults are most vulnerable and safety should be a priority.
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5 Steps To Preventing Kitchen Fires
- Keep the stove clean so grease, fat, and oil can’t accumulate
- Ensure outlets, wiring, and smoke detectors are up-to-date and safe
- Don’t wear dangling jewelry or clothing with loose or long sleeves
- Tie back long hair
- Use automatic appliances
- Stay in the room while food is cooking
In this article, we’ll give you our top tips and safety precautions for how to prevent kitchen fires. We’ll also share some of the securest cook tops and appliances seniors can use so they (and you!) feel more comfortable with them being in their kitchen alone.
“Most fires in the home begin in the kitchen,” Hamilton explained. “Every house should have a fire extinguisher located near an exit closest to the kitchen.”Firefigher Josh Hamilton from the North Metro Fire Dept in Broomfield, CO – Seniorsmatter.com
Cooking Safety Tips For Seniors
First, let’s go into more detail on the cooking safety tips we listed in the introduction. This will help you and your loved one come up with a kitchen usage plan that works for you both.
Clean The Stove Between Meals
If your senior uses the stove even close to daily, they need to clean it just as often. Perhaps they’re physically unable to clean their dirty stove? In this case, you or another caregiver may need to be at their house every day to help with that.
If they don’t clean it, then grease buildup, fat, and oil are free to accumulate on the cooking surface. These are highly combustible materials and could trigger a kitchen fire even if the senior is using all their appliances correctly.
Confirm That All Outlets, Wiring, And Smoke Detectors Are Up To Date And Safe To Use
Sometimes, all it takes to start electrical fires in the kitchen is faulty wiring and electrical work. If you can’t remember the last time your senior has had their outlets and wiring inspected by an electrician, make a phone call and set up an appointment ASAP.
Additionally, the smoke detectors in their home should be inspected annually. Replace batteries every 6 months (annually, for sure).
For seniors who have difficulty hearing, you should install a smoke detector with flashing strobe lights like this one from First Alert.
Also, to keep your senior loved one as safe as possible, it’s recommended that they have smoke detectors with a built in carbon monoxide detector. This is particularly true if they have a gas stove or oven.
TIP: because fire extinguishers can be heavy, a fire blanket might be a better choice for a frailer senior.
Avoid Wearing Loose Clothing While Cooking
Older adults need to be conscious of what they’re wearing when they cook. Flammable items like a tunic or a dress with large, billowy sleeves can pose a huge danger.
If a cook turns the wrong way while wearing these garments and they have food boiling on the stove, their clothing can catch on fire.
We’re not saying seniors should be limited to overly tight clothing only, but it is best to wear clothes with close-fitting, short sleeves.
If they’re the type who cooks with an apron, like my mom did, it should be tied firmly around their body. Skip the frilly, overly decorative aprons as well.
While we’re on the subject, turn pot handles in towards the middle of the stove to prevent catching them and yanking the pot / pan off the stove. The potential hazards of doing this include burning yourself with the hot contents and slipping and falling in the resulting mess.
Tie Back Long Hair
Along the same line, if your senior has long hair, they should tie it back before cooking. For one thing, it’s more sanitary (no long hair dropping in the food!), for another it won’t accidentally swing over the burner and catch on fire.
Keep Flammable Items Away From The Stove And Oven
We all like to have things within reach when we are busy. However, just like with loose clothing and long hair. general kitchen items can catch fire if they are too close to the oven or stove. In fact, having these things too close to where you are cooking is a leading cause of home fires that start in the kitchen.
Make sure that oven mitts, pot holders, empty food packaging, wooden utensils, dish towels, paper towels, and other flammable objects are located a safe distance from any cooking equipment.
Invest In Automatic Appliances
We live in a world where our refrigerators can connect to the Internet. Automatic devices like coffeemakers, thermometers, air fryers, instant pots, toasters, and more are all very convenient, and that’s doubly true for seniors. The best part is many of these devices and appliances have automatic shutoff features.
Your senior may be forgetful even if they don’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Upgrading to a smart kitchen is a literal lifesaver then, as they won’t have to contend with plugs or buttons. Everything will shut off on its own.
Don’t Leave The Room When Food Is Cooking
Unattended cooking causes household fires!
According to data from the National Fire Protection Association, from 2010 to 2014, up to 33 percent of residential cooking fires began because the person cooking left the room and didn’t come back in time.
We’ve probably all made this mistake at least once. Usually, we rush back in when we smell burning food or strong smoke. However, your senior might not recognize their error until it’s too late and their kitchen is in flames.
It doesn’t matter if they’re baking cookies for 10 minutes or lightly simmering a pasta sauce. If an appliance is on and the senior isn’t in the kitchen to tend to it, a fire can break out at any time.
Cooking requires their full attention. They must stay in the room until they’re done cooking.
Safest Cooktops For Elderly Cooks
Besides taking the above precautions, you might want to consider upgrading your loved one’s kitchen equipment. The cooktop or stove is a good place to start, as it’s by far one of the biggest fire risks in the kitchen.
Here are some safer stoves for your consideration:
The first safe cooktop that’s quite popular in elderly homes is an induction stove.
These work in an interesting fashion. A copper wire coil generates an electric current when you put a pot or pan on the cook top. The magnetic field within begins oscillating to make electricity that then warms up the pot. There are no coils that get hot, nor are there flames.
Induction stoves are often made of ceramic so they clean easily. Also, the cook top itself doesn’t heat up, but rather, it’s the pot or pan that heats. Still, these don’t get hot to the point of injury if your senior prematurely grabs the pot without using potholders.
Best of all, induction cooktops will turn off automatically when the pot is taken off the surface.
Read more about induction stoves in our in-depth article.
Stoves With Turn-Off Timers
Next, we’ve got a more traditional stove, but the big difference is the included turn-off timer.
If the senior is not in front of the stove while cooking, or if they don’t move for a period, the stove turns itself off on its own. This safe and smart feature can give you great peace of mind if your senior loved one lives alone.
Low-Temperature Safety Burners
You might also try a low-temperature safety burner for the senior’s kitchen.
These burners have cast-iron covers that heat up sufficiently to cook food but don’t get hot enough to cause burns or other injuries if the cook gets too close.
The biggest benefit of low-temperature safety burners is that you don’t need to overhaul the entire kitchen. You can add these burners to their preexisting stove top.
Safe Cooking Appliances For Elderly Cooks
We have another post about senior kitchen safety on the blog that goes into more detail, but in that article, we touched on cooking appliances the elderly should rely on. Here are a few more that are okay to have in the kitchen if the senior uses them properly.
If the dishwasher is at a reasonable height so the senior can reach it without bending over and it’s not too heavy to operate, then it’s suitable.
The dishwasher should also include easy-to-use controls.
Smart appliances like a refrigerator and freezer are good to have in a senior’s kitchen as well.
These appliances tend to have energy-saving capabilities, and they may even keep food fresher longer. Plus, if the fridge or freezer door is ajar, a smart appliance should let your senior know so their food doesn’t spoil.
There’s no need to forego a microwave in a senior loved one’s kitchen. Just be choosy when you shop.
You want a lightweight one that closes easily. If a button opens the door, that’s convenient too.
Like the dishwasher, an ideal microwave for seniors has controls that are easily read and understood. IT would be best if their microwave comes with auto-shutoff capability.
No, we don’t have cabinets with Wi-Fi (yet), but the cabinets in an older adult’s kitchen must be simple to operate.
Sliding basket organizers, lazy susans, pull-down shelves, or pull-out shelves are all options to mull over.
Stove With Automatic Shutoff
If upgrading or replacing a senior’s gas stove isn’t in the cards right now financially, then please don’t go without installing safety knobs and automatic shutoff features in a home where a person with cognitive issues, dementia or Alzheimer’s lives. We wrote about the importance of safety knobs in this article.
Safety knobs can help avoid gas leaks and fires since the person can’t access the burners when the safety knobs are in place.
If a knob isn’t entirely shut off or has gotten bumped and is slightly “on” while cooking, it can start a fire or cause a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide (CO) gas. If you’re looking for the best gas knobs for your senior’s stove, we’ve got some recommendations (here) for gas stove safety knobs in a variety of styles and price points.
With an electric stove or oven, you can get an automatic shut off device if the senior’s stove doesn’t have one.
Elderly Forgetting To Turn Off The Stove?
Let’s say your elderly mother is cooking dinner when the phone rings in the living room. It’s a friend or neighbor, and your mom gets so wrapped up in the conversation that she doesn’t realize she left the stove on.
Or maybe it’s your dad, who turns on the stove to start a meal and subsequently forgets what he was doing.
This is a worst-case scenario for you, we’re sure, but one that’s worth understanding better. So, what exactly could happen?
Well, if your loved one has a stove with automatic shutoff, the stove would burn for a certain period and then turn itself off. Otherwise, the stove will keep running and running and running. If it’s a gas stove with an open flame, it can grow bigger to the point where it starts a kitchen fire, especially if there are flammable objects nearby (oven mitt, food boxes, etc).
It is worth noting that while lots of adult children and caretakers have reported that leaving the stove on was the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s that they noticed in their senior, this isn’t an outright symptom of cognitive decline.
That said, if the senior in your life has routinely left the stove on more than once, it might be worth scheduling an appointment with their doctor to see what, if anything, is going on. Also, get stove burners or knob safety covers in the interim to prevent a fire.
Safety Devices Every Kitchen Should Have
There are some safety devices that all kitchens should have:
- Smoke Detectors / Smoke Alarms
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors
- Fire Extinguishers
- Extinguishing Aerosol Spray
- Fire Blankets
If you don’t yet have these products, we urge you to purchase them today. Then install them and run through a drill of how to use them so you are prepared in an emergency.
Whether still mentally sharp but just a little forgetful, or in the throes of dementia, a senior without a clear mind can easily start a kitchen fire.
The biggest cause of fire in the kitchen is cooking a meal and leaving the room with a heat source burning. Letting oil and grease build up around the stove is another cause.
By taking the steps to proof your senior’s kitchen and buying devices and appliances with automatic shutoffs, you’ll help them prevent fires, ensuring the kitchen is a much safer place for them.