The kitchen is certainly “the hub” of the home for many families and it’s where family and friends gather and meals are prepared with love. But, it’s also the place in the home where, if you are elderly, injuries and worse can occur and that is why it’s important to know how to make the kitchen as safe as possible for older adults.
So, how can you improve kitchen safety for seniors? Properly organizing and decluttering the kitchen is the first step to improved kitchen safety for aging parents and loved ones. Next, update appliances with safety products and replace cabinet shelves with pull outs. Then, add more lighting throughout the kitchen, along with gadgets that make life easier and safer for elders.
What Are The Kitchen Hazards For The Elderly?
Keeping seniors safe in the kitchen can take a little time and effort but the rewards of a happier and healthier life far outweigh any cost in time and money.
First and foremost, know that the two biggest dangers to the elderly in the kitchen are Falls and Fires.
When physical and cognitive abilities are limited, as is often the case for the elderly, the risk of death from fire rises. In 2016, older adults (ages 65 or older) experienced large numbers of fire deaths that occurred in a small population group. As a result, the risk of dying in a fire for these older adults was 2.5 times higher than for the population as a whole and rose even more for the oldest segments (Figure 2). The oldest adults, those ages 85 and older, had a risk of dying in a fire that was 3.4 times higher than for the general population. – FEMA,gov
As I mentioned in the article How To Help Keep An Elderly Person From Falling – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported the following statistics about falls in the senior population:
- Each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
- Each year at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
With statistics and facts like these – it’s easy to see that as we age (and as we begin caring for your aging parents) the importance of making the kitchen in our homes as safe as possible for our senior loved ones grows with each passing year.
So, without any further ado – let’s go on to the tips I promised you on how to make this happen!
General Kitchen Safety Tips For Seniors
The areas that we’re going to be looking at to make an elderly friendly kitchen environment for those seniors aging in place or for their caregivers are:
- Keeping Up With Maintenance
- Safety Habits
- Useful Tools and Gadgets
- Smoke Alarms
Kitchen Organization For The Elderly
The easiest way to start making a senior friendly kitchen is to organize it.
What I mean is to re-arrange the items in the kitchen so that it’s easier for your elderly loved one to reach for them and to use them.
But – it needs to be done in such a way so that the amount of “stuff” on the counters is as minimal as you can make it. Just hauling every possible pot and pan and appliance onto the counter top is NOT the thing to do!
Here are some tips on how to best organize the kitchen:
I know this can be difficult, especially for seniors but it’s important to remove unnecessary items from the counter tops, kitchen sills, kitchen table, etc. The general idea is to make enough room for cooking and food preparation.
I remember my mother had several decorative items on her small kitchen table. So, if she had to put more than one small plate on the table for dinner – she couldn’t. At least not without having to move things about, knocking things down and then having to reach down to the floor for what she dropped.
It was a struggle to get her to remove those items but after she fell from her chair when she tried to pick up the salt shaker (which she never used anyway) she finally agreed to de-clutter the table. (By the way – she ended up with a bruised elbow from that fall and never quite recovered from it.)
Now that the areas have been de-cluttered, the next step is to move the most commonly used items to the countertop level where it will be easier for them to reach, use, clean and put away. This is a very important part of making the kitchen safer for your elderly parent(s).
The physical condition of your senior will dictate where items should be placed. Some tips I can give you are:
- Don’t put EVERYTHING out on the countertop or wherever you decide is a good spot. Keep only the most used items out.
- Sometimes, removing the doors to some kitchen cabinets can make it much easier to reach for items – especially if the person is in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane.
- Replacing counter top gadgets and appliances (coffee maker, can opener, toaster oven (if you use a small one), jar opener, etc. are all a great way to clean up the counter tops, free up space and make the kitchen ultra efficient.
Senior Friendly Kitchen Cabinet Products
One of my favorite kitchen cabinet products are the pull out shelves. They can easily be installed into existing cabinets (no need to do a complete kitchen makeover!) and they are so easy to use. The ones that I installed in my mother’s kitchen were very similar to the Rev-A-Shelf Wood Base ones available at Amazon.
Below are some other products for the cabinets that can make re-arranging the kitchen much easier.
- Pull out shelves are a great way to avoid reaching too far to the back of a cabinet.
- Pull down shelves are also another wonderful product for overhead cabinets.
- Lazy susan trays are great especially for corner cabinets.
- Sliding basket organizers work well not only in kitchen cabinets but in the pantry too.
Although this article is about the kitchen, please know that some of these can also work very well in other rooms in the house. The bathroom, the garage, a craft room, the laundry room, etc.
One of the most often overlooked areas of safety is the issue of lighting.
Of course, you want ample lighting throughout the kitchen while you are in there cooking. But don’t neglect the use of lighting in the kitchen and on the way to the kitchen for those midnight snacks!
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
Some tips about lighting in the kitchen (and other rooms in the house).
- Use voice search tools like Alexa and Google home. Set them up to control the lights in the kitchen so all your senior loved one has to do is speak to it. Of course this would only work if they can remember the specific commands they must give to these devices.
- Another idea is to install a motion detection light in the kitchen. This works if it’s too expensive to add another light switch to the wall.
- Under cabinet lighting is not only very decorative but extremely useful, especially for those kitchen corners where everything seems to get lost behind the blender! You can choose between plugins and battery powered lights.
- I would also recommend to place these under cabinet lights under the lower cabinets as well to illuminate the floor area. These also make a great night light for anyone wandering into the kitchen for that 2 am snack.
- Rocker light switches may be easier for your elderly loved one to use than the standard flip switch.
- Several recessed lights on the ceiling will put more light in the room than the standard one hanging light in the middle of the ceiling. It does cost more but if your elderly parent has any vision problems at all – the extra lighting may save them some serious injury.
Anti Slip Flooring
We all know that falls are a very real danger for our aging parents and loved ones. The consequences of a fall can be devastating.
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 Parkinsons 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 declutter and organize the living areas.
- Use safety devices (such as grab bars) throughout the house.
Kitchens and bathrooms are two of the most common locations inside a home where a senior person falls. Mostly because these are the two rooms where they are forced to stand, bend and twist to perform their tasks AND also because the flooring in these two rooms tends to be more slippery than a carpeted floor.
But, not all is lost. There are ways to make an existing floor less slippery.
Senior Friendly Appliances
Believe it or not, there are certain features of appliances that can make them more senior friendly! Here’s what I mean…
- Refrigerators with a bottom freezer are easier for elders to use because the majority of the time they will be using the refrigerator instead of the freezer. This type of refrigerator then makes it easier for them to reach for all the most commonly used items at a very convenient and safe waist level height and up.
- Refrigerator doors should be very easy to open. If your mother has to pull and pull on the door to get it to open, she may just lose her balance and land on her rump!
- The newer model refrigerators have pull out shelves, which, just like the pull out shelves in cabinets are a very convenient and easy way to access items.
- My mother-in-law cooks just about everything in her microwave. For our senior population – this appliance has become a necessary staple in the kitchen. As long as it’s easy to use, easy to clean and loud enough for them to hear – it’s senior friendly. I personally LOVE programmable microwaves like this Panasonic model pictured on the right. You can set your own programs and label them like Tea, Baked Potato, Frozen Meal, etc. It makes it much easier for elderly adults to use.
- Whether there is a gas stove or an electric stove in the kitchen – making them safer is simply a matter of adding the right tools. Things like stove knob covers, stove alarms and motion detecting timers go a long way in helping to protect not only your loved ones but the home as well.
Read More About Gas Cooktops
Read More About Electric Cooktops
Read More About Induction Cooktops
- If the oven is too low to use safely – another possibility is to use a countertop toaster oven. Many of them are large enough to accommodate almost any size dish. Of course, you want to get one that has an auto shut off feature like this Breville model from Amazon.
- Dishwasher drawers are much easier for anyone to manage than the standard dishwashers. It requires less bending making it safer to load and unload. You can see a variety of them here on Google images.
- Electric can openers – especially if they are mounted under the cabinet. It not only saves space but gives the person using it a great level of independence in the kitchen. (They won’t have to call in someone just to open a can!)
Keeping Up With Maintenance
All appliances need some level of maintenance in order to keep them running smoother for longer. Keeping up with this maintenance schedule will save you alot of headaches in the long run.
Here is a list of the recommended appliance maintenance schedule:
- Clean your condenser coils twice a year.
- If you do not have a self-defrosting freezer – defrost it at least once a year.
- Replace the water dispenser water filter at least every 6 months.
- Keep a box of baking soda or use a refrigerator deodorizer.
- Clean the interior of the refrigerator at least every 6 months.
- Throw away expired products and any fruit or vegetables that are moldy or rotting once a week.
- Run your dishwasher regularly to help keep away any excess buildup.
- Clean the following parts of the dishwasher at least every 6 months – the flatware basket – the inside of the door – the gasket – the detergent dispenser and the rubber seal around the door.
- At the bottom of your dishwasher is a drain. It can easily become clogged. It requires some handyman work but it’s recommended to remove it and clean it out at least once a year.
- Keep the microwave clean and free of any debris.
- Avoid running it on empty. When there’s nothing in there to absorb the energy it produces when running – the components of the microwave begin absorbing it (the glass front, the door, the turntable, etc.) and they could be destroyed.
- Connect your microwave to a power surge protector.
- Clean your oven at least twice a year. A self cleaning oven makes the job much, much easier but be cautious. You should be home during the process BUT keep the windows in the home open while it’s cleaning. Wait at least 6 hours after it’s finished to wipe it down.
- DO NOT remove the knobs and clean under them. The liquid you use to clean there can cause a short out or electrocute you.
- Try to prevent spills by placing items on cooking trays or roasting pans for protection. Clean any spills as soon as possible.
Gas Stove Tops
- Clean spills as soon as possible to help prevent any grease fires.
- Check the burner grates often to clean off any spillover.
- Clean the burner heads and burner caps at least once a month.
Electric Stove Tops
- Clean spills as soon as possible. Do not allow messes to harden. BUT – ONLY clean the stove top AFTER it has cooled down.
- Some cook tops are on a hinge and can be lifted to clean the edges and underneath.
Useful Kitchen Tools and Gadgets
There are so many more products available today that make life easier for seniors – it’s truly amazing. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Electric Jar Opener – If your elder needs to open jars often – this is a very handy product. Easy to use and works great.
Palm Peelers – Are a very easy way to peel fruit and vegetables.
Reacher Grabbers – These have been around for several decades and they do work very well but I would recommend to consider the person you are asking to use this. If their balance is not good while they are standing, if they are using a cane or a walker – the use of a reacher grabber may compromise their balance. If they can use this from a sitting position – it would be much safer.
Magnifying Glass – It may seem odd to keep a magnifying glass in the kitchen but I hung one in my mother’s pantry and it was used quite often. Reason was that it was difficult for her to read the instructions or ingredients on products in boxes and cans so having that right there was very handy. I also put another one in her utensil holder for when she needed to read recipes or anything on an item she pulled out of the refrigerator or freezer.
Small Bake Pans – It’s very difficult to cook for one person but using mini muffin pans, mini bundt pans and small cookie sheets, etc. all work very well to make smaller versions of our favorite dishes. Also, they are much easier to manage and to clean.
Timers – It’s always a good idea to have several timers in the kitchen. These days though – it’s quite easy to use the voice search devices like Alexa or Google Home. Choose whatever works best for your aging parent.
Milk Carton Holder – This works well for some seniors if they have a problem lifting a heavy milk carton. But in general, I would recommend to try to purchase smaller sized versions of everything (juice, milk, etc.)
Electric Can Openers – Under counter mounted can openers are a great space saving product that almost every kitchen can use.
Kitchen Stools – For many seniors it’s difficult to stand for long periods of time so using a safe kitchen stool is a great way to allow them to continue doing what they love in comfort and safety.
Anti-Fatigue Mats – Most kitchen floors are either vinyl, tile, wood or an engineered product. No matter which one of these – the one thing they all have in common is that they are hard and can be difficult to stand on for any length of time. An anti-fatigue mat or memory foam mat can alleviate that. These days, they come in solid or patterns and can compliment your kitchen very well.
In 2015, older adults…Represented 15% of the US population but suffered 40% of all fire deaths. Had a 2.7 times greater risk of dying in a fire than the total population. Ages 85 and over were 3.8 times more likely to die in a fire than the total population. – U.S. Fire Administration
It’s recommended to have one smoke detector on each level of your home, in addition have one in each bedroom and another one outside every sleeping area (i.e. – the hallway to the bedrooms).
For seniors that have difficulty hearing – it’s recommended to install smoke detectors with flashing strobe lights or ones that will shake the bed like the Lifetone Bedside Clock and Vibrating Fire Alarm. Now – I have to say I have not tried this product so I don’t quite know how well it works but here’s a video showing it in action.
The American Red Cross has programs throughout the USA where they will install free smoke alarms in households that cannot afford it. Each state program is different so please contact the Red Cross for more information. Just visit this link and change the zip code to your own and you will be given your local office.
Easiest Fire Extinguisher For Seniors To Use
I would recommend that any kitchen (whether there are seniors in the home or not) be equipped with at least one fire extinguisher. But for most seniors, using one would be a bit difficult.
An alternative is a Fire Extinguishing Blanket (available on Amazon). This will put out a pan fire (liquid or grease) and it costs less than $20.00. All anyone would have to do to put out the fire with this blanket is to pull down the tabs on the wrapper, open the blanket and toss it onto the fire.
A very easy alternative to the traditional fire extinguisher.
Kitchen Chairs For Seniors
An area of the kitchen that seniors and caregivers tend to neglect is the kitchen nook – the table and chairs (if there is one) in the kitchen area.
In my personal experience with patients and family members is that the kitchen chairs and stools are usually on casters (wheels). Now, I know this makes it easier to pull the chair out but it also makes it easier for the chair to roll away while you are attempting to sit or stand up. You can read more about kitchen stools for the elderly here.
My recommendations for the best type of kitchen stools and chairs for the elderly are:
- Chairs with arms are much easier to push yourself up from BUT if the location of the chair is such that there is no room to push it back and arms on the chair would only make it more difficult to get up then I would opt for armless chairs and have a cane nearby to assist with getting up.
- If vision is an issue I would recommend to get a very colorful chair to help distinguish it from the surrounding area.
- High back chairs will give the person sitting in it better back and shoulder support.
- For a great chair with arms and a back rest, that provides good support and gives caregivers a safe way to help seniors with limited mobility, I love the Titan Armed Dining Chair. It’s a simple upholstered chair on casters but it has a brake system.
- Except for a chair with brakes, I generally would avoid chairs on casters – but of course every situation is different. I would recommend you get a professional assessment from an Occupational or Physical Therapist to help you make the best decision.
What are the best cabinet pulls for seniors? The easiest type of cabinet pulls for seniors are bar type of pulls. These can be positioned vertically or horizontally, depending on the cabinet. As long as they are big enough for someone to wrap all their fingers around it. I would also recommend a strong contrasting color to the cabinet material so that it’s easy to see for anyone with vision problems. The pulls that I would avoid are small ones, round ones, decorative ones that may not look like a traditional pull and any that have jagged edges.
What is a home safety assessment? – A home safety assessment is an in person review by a licensed Occupational Therapist. There are several online checklists like the one from A Place For Mom that you can do on your own but the value of getting one from an OT is that it will come with expert advice on how to correct any problems. You can talk to your doctor about getting a physician’s order for a home safety assessment from an Occupational Therapist.