According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, each year, one out of four older adults will have a fall.
Head injuries and/or broken bones account for one out of five of these serious injuries, plus seniors who fall once also have a higher chance of a repeat fall.
If you have an independent senior in your life, these stats may scare you, but there are ways you reduce or eliminate household slips and falls.
Kitchen fall prevention for seniors includes:
- Only use rugs with a non-slip backing; otherwise, get rid of them entirely
- Create a clutter free environment
- Encourage your senior to stay out of the kitchen until the floor fully dries after mopping
- If a spill occurs, don’t let it linger
- Always wear appropriate footwear (that means non-slip)
- Ensure the kitchen is well-lit so there are no invisible tripping hazards
- Don’t store items too high; shelves and cabinets should be shoulder height for the senior
- Make sure appliances and accessories are easy and safe to use
- Remove wheeled chairs and other wheeled items
- If you can, help your senior with getting things from high shelves, replacing light bulbs, etc.
Why Is Safety Important in the Kitchen?
Kitchen safety for seniors is closely tied to fall prevention.
Falls are one of the most common accidents among seniors, and the kitchen, with its potential hazards, such as hard surfaces and sharp corners, can be a particularly dangerous place for such incidents.
Since you care so greatly for the life of your senior, that’s the biggest reason to do all that you can to make the kitchen area as safe as possible to help prevent slips and falls.
Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries for older Americans.National Council on Aging (NCOA)
Even if the senior sustains a non-life-threatening injury, the results of their slip and fall can be expensive. NCOA mentions that, back in 2015, about $50 billion in expenses were accrued from fall injuries.
11 Tips For How To Prevent Slips And Falls In The Kitchen
Per what we discussed in the intro, the following are some simple steps for kitchen fall prevention for seniors that can reduce accidents and the accompanying injuries due to slipping and falling.
1. Get Rugs with Non-Slip Backing
Most rugs seem pretty secure when they are on a dry surface. Once the floor gets wet and the senior steps on the rug though, it could bunch up and act as a tripping hazard.
The rug can also slip beneath the senior’s feet, taking them down in the process.
Check that all rugs in the kitchen work area have non-slip backing. If they don’t, then either replace them with non-slip mats or get non-slip gripper pads to place underneath the rug.
If we are talking about throw rugs, just get rid of them entirely.
2. Create a Clutter-Free Environment
Keeping the kitchen free of clutter is crucial. Items left on the floor can easily become tripping hazards.
Ensuring that everything has a place and that the floor is kept clear can significantly reduce the risk of falls.
Adding adequate storage can help keep things organized and accessible. Consider installing shelving or wall-mounted cabinets on walls that have enough clearance for a senior to reach them.
Wall-mounted shelves are especially great as they don’t take up any floor space.
Pull-out drawers and organizers in existing cabinets are also helpful for seniors who may have difficulty reaching items in the back.
Keeping kitchen surfaces free of clutter can help with meal preparation and cooking as well.
This will make it easier for seniors to move around the kitchen and find the necessary ingredients for their recipes.
3. Never Let A Senior In A Kitchen with Wet Floors
Shiny kitchen floors look beautiful (and dirty, greasy floors are a definite fall risk in their own right!), but they can also make for slippery surfaces if you just mopped them.
If the senior or one of their family members mops the kitchen floors, they must stay out of the room until the floors fully dry.
On materials like hardwood, you can often see the drying streaks of cleaner.
With linoleum or marble floors, it’s not nearly as easy to tell whether the floor is dry.
Thus, you might want to step in the kitchen yourself and test the floor dryness before letting the senior come in.
Also, it goes without saying that floor wax is a huge no-no!!
4. Clean Up Spills Immediately
Spills make for slippery floors, which is a leading cause of injury.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), floors and flooring materials contribute directly to more than 2 million fall injuries each year.National Flooring Safety Institute
Should you, the senior, or anyone else in the kitchen spill something, take care of it immediately. Otherwise, it becomes a slipping hazard.
5. Appropriate Footwear
I walked into my elderly neighbor’s house the other day and found her in the kitchen, making lunch, and wearing socks!
As a trained Occupational Therapist, I immediately told her to stop what she was doing and to go put on proper footwear to help prevent a possible slip and fall.
Encouraging seniors to wear shoes – especially non-slip footwear – can provide additional traction and prevent slips on a slick floor.
6. Provide Good Lighting In The Kitchen
Lighting is one of the most under-utilized aspects of kitchen design.
Good lighting is important in the kitchen for seniors, who may have vision issues that make it difficult to see clearly.
Poor lighting can lead to falls and other accidents as well as difficulty with food preparation or working around the kitchen.
The best way to provide good lighting for seniors in the kitchen is by creating a layered effect.
Start with general overhead lighting that provides enough light for the entire room.
Then add a task light positioned over the workspace, like a sink or countertop.
This will provide focused, brighter illumination in areas where it’s most needed.
Under-cabinet lighting is also important for providing additional brightness and illuminating dark corners of the kitchen.
Finally, consider adding a dimmer switch to control the intensity of the lighting for different tasks.
The areas you should focus on to illuminate are…
- Over the counter tops
- Over the stove top
- Over the sink
- If there are 2 entrances to the kitchen there should be light switches at each entrance
|Lighting Tips for Kitchen and Other Rooms
|Use Smart Home Tools
|Set up Alexa or Google Home to control the lights in the kitchen. The senior just needs to speak the specific commands. This is useful if they can remember the commands.
|Install Motion Detection Light
|This is a good alternative if it’s too expensive to add another light switch to the wall. The light turns on when motion is detected.
|Under Cabinet Lighting
|These lights are decorative and useful, especially in kitchen corners where items get lost. They can be either plugin or battery-powered.
|Under Cabinet Lights for Lower Cabinets
|Placing these lights under the lower cabinets illuminates the floor area and can serve as a night light for late-night kitchen visits.
|Rocker Light Switches
|These may be easier for the elderly to use than the standard flip switch.
|Recessed Lights on the Ceiling
|Installing several recessed lights on the ceiling provides more light than a single hanging light. This can be beneficial for those with vision problems, despite the higher cost.
7. Keep Items No Higher Than Shoulder Height For The Senior
Your senior should not have to climb or finagle their way up high to get to the kitchen essentials they use each day.
You’ll want to move these items down to more accessible cabinets and shelves.
Try to keep everything within easy reach at the waist height of your senior if possible; if not, then don’t exceed shoulder height.
8. Don’t Forget About Appliances And Accessories
My grandmother often used a large cast iron pan to cook with. It was heavy and difficult to maneuver for her.
Heavy pots can be dangerous for seniors, especially when lifting them up or putting them away.
To help reduce the risk of strains and injuries, replace heavy items with lighter ones whenever possible.
Opting for lightweight cookware made from aluminum or non-stick material is a great choice as they are easier to handle.
Additionally, consider buying appliances with features to make them easier to use, such as one-touch buttons or ergonomic handles.
Making sure that items are easy to reach can also help reduce unnecessary lifting and bending. Installing sliding racks or shelves in cupboards and pantries can make it easier for seniors to get the items they need without having to strain or bend.
Finally, look for items in the kitchen that can help seniors with tasks.
Can openers and graters with large handles are great examples of items designed with seniors in mind.
They provide extra leverage so they don’t have to use too much force when using them. Look for these types of products whenever possible.
By replacing heavy items with lighter ones and using kitchen aids designed for seniors, you can create a safe and accessible kitchen environment that allows seniors to remain independent and continue cooking without fear of injury or strain.
This will help them stay safe while enjoying the many benefits of cooking in their own space.
9. Remove All Wheeled Items
Wheeled items like chairs can kind of have a mind of their own in the kitchen.
The hard flooring makes it too easy for these items to move or spin out of control, thus increasing the risk of injury.
If something is on wheels, it’s better left out of the kitchen. The only exception would be if your senior absolutely needs a wheelchair to get around or a kitchen stool to rest on.
10. Offer To Help Out With Difficult Kitchen Tasks
Whether it’s climbing up to a top shelf, putting away dishes, or replacing that blinking kitchen light, your senior can get hurt the higher they try to go in the kitchen.
If you’re available to do so, then why not do these tasks for them? Each time you step in to help, you eliminate the risk of them being injured in that instance.
11. Provide Safe Seating
A kitchen stool or chair with a back can help seniors when cooking, eating, or socializing in the kitchen. If possible, look for a stool or chair that is adjustable in height and has armrests for extra support.
Many bar stools come with footrests which are great for providing additional stability and reducing fatigue from standing.
Consider adding a cushion to the seat for extra comfort. Seat cushions with non-skid backing are ideal as they can help prevent slipping.
General Tips To Consider
I’ve written before about the 5 major areas to consider to help prevent an elderly person from falling…
- Be aware of the side effects of medications.
- Understand that some diseases such as Parkinson’s carry a high risk factor for falling.
- Make sure the clothing and shoes the elderly person is wearing does not contribute to a possible fall.
- Clutter is a major contributor to falls, especially if vision is a problem. So de-clutter and organize the living areas.
- Use safety devices (such as grab bars) throughout the house.
Kitchen Safety And Elderly Falls: What To Do If A Senior Falls
It’s one of your worst nightmares come to life. You get the call that your senior has fallen in the kitchen.
You rush to the scene, but what should you do when you get there?
Here are some steps to follow (you can also see how to lift a senior off the floor in the video at the end of this section).
- First, you don’t want to panic too much. It’s an emotionally upsetting moment, but you must keep a level head. After all, your senior is probably quite overwhelmed, as well. Remind them to breathe as you go about trying to get them upright.
- Before you ever touch them, look at the senior for obvious signs of injury. These include broken bones, bleeding, and bruising.
- Assess for a concussion. Are they dizzy? Do they have a headache? Are there signs of a bump on the head?
- Talk to the senior about whether they’re hurt, as well as any pain severity and its location.
- If the injury is severe, immediately get in touch with emergency services by dialing 911. Stay with your senior and let the emergency responders transport your senior to the hospital.
- If your senior doesn’t require hospitalization, then you’ll want to help them to their feet gently, keeping their injury in mind as you do so. To start, you should brace one hand near their feet and the other near their head.
- Then, gingerly move your senior over so they’re lying sideways. If they can get on hands and knees at this point, let them. Otherwise, step in and help. You might want to keep a towel or blanket beneath them so the senior doesn’t hurt their knees more.
- Position a chair close to their head. Then, encourage them to put their hands on the chair so only their knees are on the floor.
- Now ask them, if possible, to get up on one leg only. This should be the stronger or better of the two legs.
- Grab a second chair to brace the senior. Ask them to get into this chair now that they’re mostly standing. Help if necessary.
- Next, inspect your senior for any signs of serious injury that you might not have seen before.
- Decide what to do from there. You may bring them to the hospital anyway or set up an emergency doctor’s appointment for later that day or the next day.
Symptoms To Look For After A Fall
Besides the bruising and bleeding your senior may have after a fall, they’re also susceptible to a traumatic brain injury.
This can occur if their body or head took a hard impact.
Depending on the extent of the injury, one can have mild, moderate, and severe traumatic brain injuries, says Mayo Clinic.
These symptoms affect a person mentally and physically and can even manifest through sensory symptoms.
The symptoms for a mild traumatic brain injury include:
- Anxiousness and depression
- Mood swings or other mood changes
- Difficulties with concentration and/or memory
- Sound and light sensitivity
- Changed perception to smell
- Consistent bad taste in their mouth
- Ringing in the ear(s)
- Blurry vision
- Imbalance and dizziness
- Sleeping a lot or sleeplessness
- Speech slurring and other issues
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Vomiting and nausea
- Disorientation, often accompanied by confusion
- Temporary unconsciousness; this may go on for seconds at a time or even minutes
If your senior has a more serious traumatic brain injury, their symptoms will include:
- Consciousness disorders, including coma
- Slurred speech
- Strange behavior, including aggression and agitation
- Intense confusion
- Toe and finger numbness and/or weakness
- Unable to wake up easily after sleeping
- Ear and nose fluid leakage
- Pupil dilation
- Seizures or convulsions
- Nausea and vomiting repeatedly
- Intense headaches
- Unconsciousness that may go on for hours
If you believe your senior has a traumatic brain injury, you should get them medical attention immediately.
Elderly Fall Prevention Devices
Another means of reducing fall-related injuries and making the kitchen a safer place is using an elderly fall prevention device.
These include far more than the wearable calling devices you may have seen in television commercials.
Today’s elderly fall prevention devices also encompass the following:
- Anti-wandering door systems
- Motion sensors
- Wheelchair seat belts
- Floor mats that sense one’s weight
- Chair exit alarms
- Bed pressure pads with weight-sensing capabilities
- Pull-string fall prevention alarms
Through one or more of these devices and your careful monitoring, it’s possible to reduce instances of falls for your senior.