Food is one of the most unifying and social things in our culture, and the kitchen is often the main hub of the entire household — the place where people come together to not only cook and share meals, but talk about their days, work on school assignments, and get important things done.
Here in Chicago, kitchens come in all shapes and sizes, from sprawling and modern to cute and cramped.
For older adults who are aging in place at home, the kitchen is one of the most vital rooms in the house — and it’s important to make this space as safe, secure, and senior-friendly as possible. Here are five things to focus on to create a kitchen that will be truly safe and functional for the elderly:
1.) Be Mindful of Fire Safety
Fires are an enormous safety hazard for people of all ages, and older adults are particularly susceptible to their devastating effects, with people 65 or older twice as likely to be killed or injured in a fire, compared to the population at large according to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA.
According to FEMA, “cooking fires” are the number one cause of home fires in the country. Here’s how to minimize the risk in your senior loved one’s kitchen:
- Keep the stovetop and range clear; make sure that dish towels and curtains do not come near burners. Keep potholders, plastic utensils, and other flammable items away from open flames.
- Remind your elderly loved one to avoid wearing loose or baggy clothing when in the kitchen; loose clothing can easily brush up against a flame and catch fire. Help your elderly loved ones roll up their shirt sleeves when baking or cooking.
- Make sure there is a functional smoke alarm installed in the kitchen. Regularly test the system and replace the batteries as needed. Consider a senior-friendly smoke alarm that uses flashing lights as well as noise, to help catch the attention of older adults who may be hard of hearing.
- Regularly check and clean the exhaust vent over the stovetop, as well as the burner grates and the walls and racks inside the oven. Residue and grime can easily build up over time, which can become a fire hazard if left untreated. Follow these guidelines for cleaning the oven safely.
- Make sure the kitchen has a senior-friendly fire extinguisher in an easily accessible location. Go over how to use this important safety device on a regular basis.
- Consider investing in senior-friendly appliances. Some ovens come with built-in alarm systems in case of gas leaks or fires. Consider an oven with controls at the front, so your loved one doesn’t have to reach across a hot cooktop. You might also consider encouraging your loved one to use a toaster oven, which is smaller and can easily be set up on a countertop.
- Regularly go over fire safety together. In particular, reiterate the importance of never leaving any cooking food unattended — that includes simple things like toast or boiling water. Consider appliances that can be programmed to be shut off automatically, such as electronic microwaves and coffee makers.
2.) Reduce the Risk of Suffering a Fall
An older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds, and one out of every four Americans 65 and older experiences a fall each year. The kitchen is rife with slip and fall hazards. Here are a few ways to make this important room safer:
- Make sure the lighting in the room is clear, bright, and accessible. Upgrade the lighting in the kitchen as needed; you want a light source that is not too dim, and not too harsh. Make sure there is plenty of task lighting over the areas where your loved one will be working. Consider nightlights and motion-activated lighting, and make sure there are multiple lightswitches that are within easy reach.
- Add non-slip mats in strategic locations around the floor. Consider replacing slippery tile flooring with a safer flooring option. Encourage your loved one to wear shoes with non-slip soles.
- Always wipe up spills as quickly as possible. Regularly check the sink, dishwasher, and other appliances for leaks or drips.
- Add a comfortable kitchen chair that your loved one can sit in when they need a break. This way, they can actively watch their food cooking, without having to stand for the entire time.
- Make sure knives and cutlery are safely stored. Consider investing in nonbreakable plates and glasses, which pose less of a hazard if dropped.
- Consider installing grab bars or personal supports throughout the house. Make sure the doorways are wide enough for older adults with personal assistive devices, such as canes or walkers.
3.) Get Organized, Eliminate Clutter, and Make the Kitchen Easier to Use
The more organized and efficient the kitchen is, the more likely your senior loved one will be to actually use it on a regular basis — and the more safe they will be at every step of the way!
- Think carefully about how your loved one will use the space. Make sure that countertops are not overly cluttered. Try to leave out only the most-used appliances and tools, and make sure that they don’t have bits and pieces spread out all over the place.
- Try to keep your loved one’s most-used tools, ingredients, and appliances at arm’s level — the less they have to stoop or stretch, the more comfortable and safe they will be. Avoid storing important items in the highest or lowest storage spaces, as these are the ones that seniors are least likely to use.
- Consider removing the doors on kitchen cabinets. Use pull-out shelving, lazy susans, sliding baskets, and other simple additions that can help keep their most-used items in easy reach.
- Streamline, streamline, streamline. Get rid of junk drawers and other sources of kitchen clutter. What will the older adult actually use on a regular basis? Focus on keeping what they need and eliminating obstacles and distractions.
- Consider a motion-activated kitchen faucet, or a sink with easy-to-use levers.
- Make sure that the doors to the refrigerator and pantry open easily and smoothly; the more your loved one has to tug, the more likely they will strain and possibly suffer a fall. Consider a modern refrigerator with a bottom freezer and pull-out shelves.
- Keep the fridge and pantry organized, with the most-used ingredients easily accessible. Regularly throw out old or expired items.
- Invest in handy kitchen gadgets that can reduce the need to struggle and strain — such as an electric can opener, a palm peeler, a digital timer, cut-resistant gloves, an electric kettle, or an electric jar opener.
4.) Minimize the Risk of Foodborne Illness
According to FoodSafety.Gov, adults aged 65 and older are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death from foodborne illness due to lifestyle changes and underlying health conditions. Here are a few simple ways to minimize the risk of contamination in the kitchen:
- Make sure the refrigerator is set to a healthy temperature. Generally speaking, experts recommend setting the fridge at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer at 0 degrees.
- Label everything. Markers and tape are your best friends. Label fresh or perishable items with the date that they were purchased or cooked, or how long each item will be good to eat. Create a system that works for you!
- Regularly clean out the fridge and pantry to dispose of expired food. Check expiration dates often.
- Go over the proper ways to cook (and reheat) food. Consider keeping a handy chart on the fridge with safe temperatures for meat, seafood, and eggs, and make sure your loved one has at least one functioning cooking thermometer handy.
5.) Bring On a Helping Hand
Food is one of the cornerstones of good health — and being able to spend time in the kitchen is one of the great advantages of aging in place. For older adults, having the freedom and flexibility to whip up their favorites is a truly wonderful thing. And it can be made a lot easier with the hands-on support of an attentive, personable, and truly caring senior companion. That’s where in-home care comes in.
Also known as companion care or respite care, non-medical in-home care can help give your loved one the support they need to live life to the fullest. Available on a flexible schedule that suits your loved one’s needs, a companion can provide hands-on assistance with ADLs throughout the house — from lending a supportive arm to seniors as they sit or stand, to assisting with personal matters like using the restroom, bathing and dressing. A companion can also provide assistance with housekeeping, laundry, and meal preparation, to help minimize common risks to seniors while still encouraging their independence.
At Companions for Seniors, we make food and mealtimes a key point of emphasis when it comes to the care we provide. Depending on your loved one’s needs, a companion can step in and help out in the kitchen in many different ways – from sharing meals with your senior loved one, to helping them with grocery shopping and other errands, to cooking with them, to helping them keep their work spaces and dining areas clean and tidy.
Live In Chicago or the Chicagoland Suburbs? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help
Ready to talk over ideas for making your elderly loved one’s entire home safer and more accommodating? Curious about what it takes to get started with in-home care? We are always here and ready to keep the conversation going!
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity at home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help seniors age in place comfortably and safely, without having to uproot their lives and move into expensive and restrictive institutionalized care facilities.
We will work with your family to develop a personalized care plan specifically tailored for your loved one’s needs, and your own hopes and goals as a family caregiver. We believe in fostering an open dialogue and sharing ideas; always going the extra mile with our services; and providing flexible care at the right price for every household.
We are based in Chicago, with service available in the city and suburbs. Our companions are available on a full- and part-time basis, and can offer assistance with grooming, bathing, running errands, attending appointments, cooking meals, doing housework, and so much more.
Have any more questions? Ready to get started? Give us a call at 866-910-9020 or get in touch online using our contact form today!