For many, the kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the entire home.
And because all of us find ourselves cooking, cleaning or even baking in the kitchen daily - it makes it one of the most critical rooms in the home to have evaluated for overall safety.
Luckily, there are several solutions that can be implemented to improve overall safety and independence in the kitchen. And because kitchen renovations can range in cost and effectiveness, it's important to know which modifications to choose first and which changes can wait for later.
To start, here are some of the common-sense and cost-effective changes you can make on your own to improve kitchen safety:
Improve lighting and contrast
Replace difficult handles and faucets
Remove all throw rugs
Use extra caution to prevent fires
Improve Lighting and Contrast
Dim lighting can be comforting and make a room feel “homey”, but it can also increase the risk of falls throughout the home.
And while lighting is important throughout your entire home, it is especially critical that you add adequate lighting within the kitchen - to avoid tripping over the corner of chairs, kitchen tables or other areas.
To add proper lighting in your kitchen you can consider a variety of solutions that include:
Adding nightlights throughout the kitchen
Installing motion activated lighting
Implementing extra cabinet or strip lighting
Purchasing smart switches (e.g. those that connect to a virtual assistant such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa)
Replace Difficult Handles and Faucets
Another area of the kitchen that often needs to be addressed is the current handles and faucets across the variety of kitchen appliances you or a loved one has.
Round knobs, which are most commonly found in the kitchen, are actually the most difficult to manage when dexterity is limited.
Over time, that repetitive strain we place on our hands and wrists can lead to decreased hand strength, decreased fine motor coordination, and arthritis. These changes can make opening cabinets and turning on faucets much more challenging.
If you or a loved one is having difficulty with handles and faucets, you can consider modifications such as:
Lever handle faucets and pull handles for the cabinets. These modifications require the least dexterity to operate and are much easier on the hands
Motion-activated faucets. These are also useful when dexterity and strength are severely diminished. And if you're looking for an even greater solution there are now voice-activated faucets available
Remove Throw Rugs
This is why when we conduct home safety checkups and we see a throw rug, we say "throw it out"!
Though we realized that many individuals keep area rugs in the kitchen environment, particularly near the sink area. These rugs are okay, as long as they are properly secured to the ground. This means they have a non-skid bottom or you've added rug tape to the bottom of the rug that keeps it from sliding around under your feet.
And if you're worried about rug tap on your wood or tile flooring, we suggest you replace the throw rug with a non-skid bottom rug or simply throw your current rug out.
We’ve all heard older adults talk about how their memory isn’t what it used to be. This is because as we age, our cognition declines, especially short-term memory. This means that it's more likely we will forget to turn off the stove after cooking, overcook food, or leave the oven going long after we have removed food.
There are several preventative home modifications for the kitchen to decrease the risk of a fire. These include:
Automatic Stove Shutoff System - We highly suggest this modification because it will often work with your current oven/stove system to ensure that the oven or stove is not left unattended, thus preventing the likelihood of a fire. For example, the stove shut-off systems can be set to turn off the stove/oven after 5 minutes of no movement in the kitchen
Fire Alarm - Always ensure that there is a properly functioning fire alarm in the kitchen to alert anyone in the home in the case of a fire
Fire Extinguisher - It is a safe practice to always have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen or nearby in the event of a fire
More Extensive Home Modifications
Sometimes more expensive and time-intensive changes are needed to improve kitchen safety. With these types of home modifications, we suggest that you have a trained occupational therapist access your home before ever purchasing or installing on your own.
An occupational therapist is trained to consider a person's medical history, environment, and daily living habits. With clinical knowledge they can recommend the most common-sense solutions - ultimately saving you time and effort.
For the following improvements in kitchen safety, an occupational therapist should be involved to:
Improve the ability to reach items in upper and lower cabinets
Adapt the sink to accommodate wheelchair access
Add adaptive equipment to use in the kitchen
Add wheelchair accessible counter height
Improve Ability to Reach Items in Upper and Lower Cabinets
If you have difficulty reaching upper and lower cabinets it may be due to decreased balance and leg strength, or the use of a mobility device.
There are a few home modifications to combat this issue which can include:
Installing specialized cabinetry modifications such as pull-out drawers and shelving, drop-down shelving, or lazy-susans
Rearranging items most commonly used to waist height drawers, countertop spaces, or easily accessible cabinets
An occupational therapist can work directly with you or your loved one to go through current kitchen usage and determine the best solution to improving access to items within the kitchen.
Adapting the Sink to Accommodate Wheelchair Access
One of the most-used areas in the kitchen is the sink.
We wash our hands, get a glass of water, get water for the dog or plants, take care of dirty dishes, and so much more at the kitchen sink. However, someone who must use a wheelchair for mobility - either for safety or due to leg weakness - may be limited in access to their kitchen sink if a counter is in the way or the sink is too high.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) set a code of standards for all kinds of accessibility in buildings and homes.
The ADA sink height recommendations are that the sink is no higher than 34 inches at the top of the sink or counter, and knee clearance under the sink or counter that is at least 27 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 19 inches deep. We recommend you work with an occupational therapist to assure your changes meet these ADA sink height recommendations.
Adaptive Equipment to Use in the Kitchen
Aging means changing. And change means we may not be able to do things the way we used to do them.
Below is a chart of common age-related changes and equipment that might assist you or your loved one in the kitchen. This is simply a guide to get you started. We suggest you talk with an occupational therapist to decide which items of adaptive equipment might be most beneficial to your current needs.
Wheelchair Accessible Counter Height
Along with the sink, the kitchen counters may need to be adjusted to be accessible for wheelchair usage.
According to the ADA, a wheelchair accessible counter height is between 28-34 inches - though this is also based on the older adult’s height and height of the wheelchair. Power wheelchairs, scooters, and manual wheelchairs may all have different counter height requirements.
Lastly, we realize that knowing which modifications are right for you or your loved one's needs can feel overwhelming. That's why we're here to help.
If you or your loved one is in need of a safer kitchen, never hesitate to schedule a complementary home safety checkup. Our Client Care Team would be more than happy to assist you and answer any questions you have.