Nicholas always had a passion for cooking. There was something about being in his kitchen and creating delicious, colorful meals that brought him so much joy. But as he entered his late seventies, cooking started to become a bit more of a chore. As Nicholas’s mobility decreased, he found it difficult to retrieve pots and pans from his cupboards, remove food from the oven, and lean over the sink to wash his dishes.
Luckily, his son Christopher noticed that Nicholas wasn’t enjoying cooking as much as he used to and decided to help his father make some changes to his kitchen that would allow him to be safer and more comfortable while preparing his meals. Together, the two of them got to work, combining simple changes with a few larger renovations to create a functional space for Nicholas to cook.
As we age, the kitchen can indeed become an increasingly difficult space in which to function, making it a challenge to prepare the healthy, home-cooked meals that are so essential for proper nutrition and good health. There are, however, many adjustments you can help your aging loved one make that will help make their kitchen safer and more comfortable to work in. If your aging loved one lives independently and could benefit from a more accessible, easy to navigate kitchen in their home, let’s have a look at some aging in place kitchen design ideas that will make cooking a joy once again.
Simple Tips to Make Your Aging Loved One’s Kitchen Safer
There are, of course, an endless amount of tips for making your loved one’s home more livable and enjoyable, but the kitchen, in particular, can be one of the most difficult parts of the home for aging adults to navigate safely. The good news is, though, that you don’t have to gut and remodel the entire kitchen in order to make it easier and safer to for your aging loved one to use.
Here are a few important tweaks that you can easily help your aging loved one make to their existing kitchen to reduce the risk of having an accident and increase their enjoyment:
- Round out any sharp edges: Kitchen countertops, cabinets, and shelves can be quite sharp, meaning they can easily cause damage should your loved one slip or trip. Countertops in particular, since they are hip/abdomen level, have the potential to cause bruising and even more severe injuries, so it is a good idea to have any sharp edges sanded down. Watch out for sharp shelving at head-level as well.
- Invest in a good pair of oven mitts: This may seem obvious, but it is so often overlooked. Buying your loved one a large pair of oven mitts and getting rid of any pot holders is one of the best things you can do for their safety. Silicone oven mitts often offer the best grip and heat protection, making them an excellent choice because not only will they protect them against burns, they’ll make it easier to remove food from the microwave and oven without spilling.
- Move the microwave: If your aging loved one uses the microwave to reheat food often, it’s a good idea to put it in a place that is easily accessible for them, like on the countertop or on a waist-level shelf. Many microwaves are built into the upper cabinetry, and while this can save counter space, it isn’t very safe for aging adults. If the microwave is placed lower, your aging loved one won’t strain their back by bending down or lose their balance when reaching upwards to remove hot food. Not only will it be easier on their body, keeping the microwave somewhere lower can also prevent spills and burns because it is easier to lift items below the waist than above the shoulders.
- Get a good mat: Non-slip, anti-fatigue rubber floor mats are a wise purchase for your aging loved one’s kitchen. Not only will they make it more comfortable to stand for long periods of time by reducing stress on the joints, they’ll also prevent slips. Place one by the sink and one in front of the stove, or wherever they spend the most time standing. While you’re at it, get rid of any rugs in the kitchen, as they can be very dangerous if they slip and slide all over the floor.
Of course, it’s a good idea to sit down with your aging loved one before you start making changes and ask them what is and isn’t currently working for them in their kitchen. They know their home best, after all, so they will have the best idea about what needs changing or upgrading. Make their requests a priority and ask for feedback on your ideas as well as their permission to go ahead with them. Remember, nobody likes to have someone else make changes to their home without their consent—no matter how well-intentioned they are.
Aging in Place Kitchen Design Ideas for Safety
If your aging loved one is planning on doing a complete remodel of their kitchen, there is certainly a lot more that can be done to optimize the space for aging in place. Be sure to do a lot of research before you get started, and again, involve your aging loved one in the process. They are the one, after all, who is going to use it every day.
While there will undoubtedly be a number of things to consider when doing a kitchen remodel, here are a few important ones to get you started:
- Replace doors with drawers: It’s a good idea to swap out below-the-counter cupboards with drawers in your aging loved one’s kitchen. Cabinets often require one to get down on their knees and reach far back into the cabinet to get what they are looking for, which can be tough on the body—especially for someone with mobility issues. Drawers or pull out cabinets, on the other hand, display their contents and make much easier and much safer to access items. Pots, pans, appliances, kitchen gadgets, and cutting boards can all be arranged for easy access in drawers.
- Opt for a side-opening oven: Ovens pose a definite risk to aging adults or those who may not have the best agility and balance. Side-opening ovens, however, can be built into the wall at any height and open like a microwave, making it a whole lot easier to use. Not only can one get up nice and close to access the oven, they don’t have to put a strain on their back by reaching and straining the way one would with a regular oven, which reduces the likelihood of burns.
- Install slip-free flooring: When replacing flooring, look for tiles that are textured and ensure that there is sufficient grout applied between them to add even more texture. Porcelain can be a good option, especially if the tiles are small so that there is more grout. Vinyl flooring, however, is likely the best options, however, as it tends to be softer than porcelain, and therefore may not cause the same degree of injury if your loved one has a fall.
- Choose a smart sink: It’s important for your loved one to have a functional sink, as so much of one’s time in the kitchen is spent at the sink. Shallow sinks tend to be the best for aging adults, as they can minimize reaching and bending over, taking strain off of the lower back. A pull out sprayer is also a good thing to install for this reason. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, install a motorized adjustable sink that one can easily raise and lower as needed, and be sure to keep the space below it clear so they can fit their legs comfortably underneath.
What’s great about these tips is that they aren’t only applicable to the kitchen—many can even double as bathroom design tips for aging in place too. And while it is true that home renovations and upgrades will likely be expensive, your aging loved one’s safety and comfort in their own home is priceless.
Once Nicholas’s kitchen was finished he was able to start cooking again, he found himself enjoying the process of preparing tasty meals the way he used to. He found it amazing what a few changes did for his mobility, comfort, and safety in his kitchen. Age, he realized, didn’t have to stop him from doing what he loved.
Institute on Aging offers a variety of services and programs that make aging in place easier, safer, and more enjoyable for your aging loved one. To learn more, contact us today.