The kitchen may be considered the heart of the home but it is filled with safety risks. Especially for those aging at home and who may be experiencing a decline in vision, mobility, strength, balance, coordination, or cognitive function. Our goal is to help you to spot the potential dangers and find the best solutions to reduce the risk of injuries. In this article, we will cover the main kitchen safety concerns for seniors; which include fall risks, fire safety, foodborne illnesses, and more. Plus, we’ll guide you in making the best modifications to keep your loved one safe.
Most kitchens utilize tile flooring, which is great for cleaning up spills but they also pose an increased risk for slip and falls; especially if they become wet from splashed water or cooking ingredients. Here are the most common threats to keep in mind when evaluating the kitchen for fall risks.
Everyday items should be organized and stored within reach where your loved one will not have to search, overstretch, rearrange other items, climb, or use a step stool to grab. Keep these items visible, on hip level shelves (especially if they’re heavy), in easy to access drawers, or at eye level.
Invest in a comfortable pair of non-skid slippers or non-slip socks that have grips on the bottom. Keep these located somewhere your loved one can grab them quick and slip on first thing in the morning. Most importantly, teach seniors to avoid walking around barefoot or in normal socks. If a surface becomes wet or slick there is no traction and the risk of slipping increases significantly.
As mentioned above, it’s easy for kitchen floors to become slippery when cooking or washing dishes. Here are some tips to follow:
Spending too much time standing can also result in slip and falls. Using an anti-fatigue mat can help relieve pressure from off the back, legs, and feet while standing. Place one of these at the kitchen sink or the in front of the stove; just make sure they are non-slip and won’t become slippery when wet. The right mat should have beveled edges to eliminate tripping and be somewhat heavy so that it doesn’t slide around.
Throw rugs are common decorations that should be removed right away. Even when taped to the floor, the edges of the rug pose a threat for catching under your feet. Stick with heavy anti-fatigue mats with beveled edges.
Pets are one of the most common tripping hazards and are responsible for thousands of hospital visits annually. Pets are great company for those who live alone, but weigh the possible risk and decide if it’s the best choice for your loved one.
Kitchen fires are one of the most major safety concerns and preventative measures should be taken immediately. Luckily there are many things we can do to decrease the risk of fires. Take the time to discuss these tips and tools with your loved one to help keep them, and the home, safe from fires. This is something you may want to revisit on a regular basis as a reminder.
Encourage your loved one to make use of cooking timers. These should come preinstalled on stoves and microwaves but if your loved one has a hard time figuring them out, purchase a basic timer to set on the counter. These timers serve as great reminders that something is cooking in case he or she gets sidetracked.
You can purchase and install an automatic shut-off device, or cook stop, with a pre-programmed timer and motion sensor designed to turn off the stove after the room is vacant for a certain amount of time. These are especially safe for gas ranges.
Check to see where your loved one hangs the dish towels. They should be kept away from the stove (most importantly, gas ranges), other appliances that heat up, and off the oven handle.
As a side note, dish towels can also be considered a tripping hazard if they fall from their location to the floor. Make sure they’re hung securely over the countertops instead of the floor.
Similar to dish towels, potholders and cooking utensils should be kept away from stove tops and hot areas. These can become hot to touch and risk for burns. They can also catch fire, melt, and burn.
If there is a window located above or near the stove, remove any curtains that may droop down or hang close to the stove. You should also check around other hot appliances, like the toaster oven, if there is one. These can accidentally catch fire when cooking.
This one is especially important to talk about with your loved one on a regular basis. Baggy or loose hanging sleeves are not safe when cooking and reaching over gas burners or hot surfaces. Clothing is highly flammable and greatly increases the risk of starting a fire.
This should be addressed on a regular basis. Dirty ventilation systems commonly cause kitchen fires and should be cleaned regularly. Good, clean, ventilation systems will also help with eliminating odors, clearing smoke and steam, and reducing contamination.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be inspected and tested on a regular basis. Make sure they are installed and working properly at least once a month. Batteries will likely need to be replaced once, sometimes twice a year.
There should be a fire extinguisher located in the kitchen that is easily accessible. Do not store it near the stove, oven, or other areas where a fire is likely to occur and block access. Find a place near the kitchen door or entrance that is approximately 30ft away from the stove.
Keep in mind that fire extinguishers do not last forever. Disposable extinguishers should be replaced every 12 years and rechargeable ones recharged every 6. You can check the label for dates.
If there is a hood over the oven, make sure that the filters are easily removable and properly cleaning on a regular basis.
Ranges or stoves with controls located at the front are safer. This eliminates the need to reach over hot or ignited surfaces to adjust the burner settings.
The microwave should only be used when there is food in it and with microwave safe containers.
Foodborne illnesses can wreak havoc on anyone, but especially someone who has a compromised or weakened immune system. Take the necessary precautions to ensure food is properly stored and your loved one is safe from consuming contaminated food. Here’s what you can do.
To avoid cross-contamination you’ll want to make sure food is properly stored in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Frequently check both the refrigerator and freezer temperature on a regular basis, appliances with settings on the outside can easily be bumped and changed.
When storing leftovers or premade meals, use airtight containers to seal foods to preserve longer.
Sometimes expiration dates are hard to read or rub away. Labeling food with the expiration dates so your loved one can better see it can help prevent consumption of unsafe food. During visits, check expiration dates on the packaging and discard spoiled items. Leftovers are good for about 3 to 4 days.
Cooked food that sits at room temperature should be discarded if left out for longer than 2 hours. Bacteria can grow at a rapid rate between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making food unsafe to eat.
Decluttering is one of the best things you can do to improve safety in the kitchen. It decreases the likelihood of cuts, injuries, and falls along with accidents like spills or broken items. Here are a few tips you can implement.
Make sure there is enough space for your loved one to navigate around the kitchen and access all cooking, eating, and storage areas. There should always be a clear path in and out of the room. Also, check that there is adequate space for mobility or walking aids. We recommend that you test run this yourself to make sure.
Relocate unnecessary decor and put away any unused appliances. There should be ample countertop space for prepping meals. Make sure mail, newspapers, and magazines don’t pile up. These items can turn into fire or slipping hazards.
Since it is often necessary to take with food, the kitchen is a common place to store daily medications. Multiple bottles take up a lot of space and can create clutter that can easily be knocked over resulting in tripping hazards. Caregivers should organize medication into pill organizers and store bottles out of the way. These handy storage containers also serve as a reminder to take medications and avoid double dosing.
Items should be organized based on prioritization. Things that are accessed frequently should be conveniently located and easily accessible. Use labeled bins and baskets to group related items, making it easier for your loved one to find what he or she needs. Poorly organized storage areas are not only frustrating to navigate; having to bend, twist, and reach to rummage or move items around increases the risk of injury.
Both bending down too low and reaching too high can be cause for injury, especially when heavy items are involved. Keep crockpots, mixers, larger cookware, and other heavier gadgets stored at hip level. This eliminates the need to bend down too low or for step stools to collect items.
Take inventory of your loved one’s dish and cookware, consider size, sharp utensils, how much space is available, and remove glass or ceramic items that can shatter and break.
Replace ceramic or breakable dishware with plastic or melamine dinnerware and cups. Instead of glass bakeware, opt for metal pans. If items are dropped they’re less likely to break. Shattered glass is difficult to clean up and increases the risk of your loved one injuring or cutting themselves.
Smaller cookware is easier to store, use and maneuver. Get rid of big bulky items and downsize pots, pans, and cooking sheets that can be more easily accessed and utilized by your loved one.
Kitchen shears, knives, and other sharp cooking utensils should be stored properly. Use mounts, blocks, or docks and avoid storing these items loosely in a drawer where your loved one can accidentally cut or injure themselves.
Routinely inspect all major appliances to ensure that everything is functioning properly and user-friendly. Poor functioning, broken or leaking appliances can lead to fires, water damage, foodborne illness, injuries, and other major safety concerns.
Both gas and electric stovetops need to be cleaned regularly to avoid grease fires or damage to appliances.
There are many tools and gadgets on the market that can help make daily kitchen activities easier for someone who has a disability, limited mobility, or strength. Check out some of our favorites below and outfit your kitchen with the ones you need.
While step stools can be considered a risk for falls, sometimes they are necessary. Find a step stool that has one level with a stable base and a handle. This type of stool is safer than fold-out or multi-level designs.
A reacher grabber is a handy gadget to have. Whether you need to take an item off the top shelf or reach behind an appliance. This tool gives you the extended reach you need so you don’t have to bend down or overreach.
These utensils help stabilize hand and arm movements if your loved one experiences frequent tremors or shakes when they are trying to eat. Those with conditions like arthritis or carpal tunnel can also benefit from using adaptive utensils or customizable grips that are easier to hold.
If your loved one’s strength and coordination is affected by a disability, bibs are a great idea for protecting clothing. Reusable ones are much more comfortable and can be simply tossed in the wash for next use.
Spill-proof cups for adults cut down on mess and help avoid spilling liquids onto the floor which can make surfaces slippery and dangerous. Those with disabilities, or conditions like Parkinson’s, can really benefit from these cups and feel more independent.
Opening up jars and cans can be tough if you suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel, or decreased strength. Look for an ergonomically designed opener with an easy to grip handle and good leverage. You may also want to consider electric openers, but be sure this is an appropriate option for your loved one.
With reduced hand function regular peels are difficult to grip. A palm peeler rests comfortably inside your hand without the use of dexterity or finger strength. Simply run the device over fruits and vegetables for an easy-peel.
As we age our vision tends to decrease. Keeping a magnifying glass handy in the kitchen is super convenient for reading labels and expiration dates. It’s also great for reading the newspaper with your morning coffee.
As mentioned in our fire safety section, timers are a great tool when cooking or baking and are great reminders in case your loved one becomes sidetracked.
If it’s difficult for your loved one to bend down to access the oven, consider a toaster oven that sits on the counter top. Just remember your fire safety and get one that has an auto shut off feature.
Depending on your situation, you might be considering renovations or remodeling.
It may be difficult to adjust the layout of your kitchen if you’re not planning to make upgrades, remodel, or relocate; but if you are here keep in mind maneuverability and access to high traffic areas.
Here are some things to think about when choosing new countertops.
If your loved one is wheelchair bound or used their mobility scooter to navigate around the house and perform daily tasks, installing lower countertops will provide a more comfortable work space for preparing meals
Opt for rounded edges to reduce the risk of serious injury in case your loved one bumps their hip or even head when maneuvering around the kitchen.
Quartz and granite countertops are easiest to clean and maintain, they are also durable and long lasting.
Easily accessible cabinets make all the difference and reduce the risk of injury by eliminating the need to overreach, bend down, and search for items. Consider these features when upgrading your cabinets.
If your loved one is wheelchair bound you’ll definitely want to lower cabinet height. However, lowering cabinet height in any senior’s kitchen will make it easier to access items and eliminate the need for step stools or additional gadgets. Having more accessible areas to store dishes, drinkware and other kitchen items will allow you to have a more organized space with less clutter.
Drawers that pull or slide out make it a lot easier to access items located in the back.
If built in slide-out drawers are a little outside your budget. Opt for baskets and organizers that function the same way
D-shaped handles are easier to grip and pull than small knobs.
Installing shelves into corner cabinets that function as lazy susans is a great way to maximize space and improve accessibility. Smaller, plastic versions are also great for organizing spices and pantry items.
Efficient lighting is important, especially as we age and vision decreases. A well lit kitchen makes it easier to locate items, identity important labels and expiration dates, and navigate surroundings. Here are ways to enhance lighting in the kitchen.
Upgrade old bulbs. Opt for white LED lights that provide ample lighting and are both energy efficient and long lasting.
Both motion and light sensor nightlights are a great addition to any kitchen. These are perfect for lighting up the path to the kitchen or countertops in case your loved one decides to grab a late night snack or drink of water.
Cabinet lighting that illuminates when a cabinet door is opened can help your loved one identify and locate items more easily. Under cabinet lighting is also a great idea to better light up countertops and workspace.
Replace pole style light switches with rocker switches. These are much easier for those with decreased dexterity or conditions like arthritis to use.
There are a lot of safety precautions that you can implement when it comes to the kitchen and every scenario is unique depending on level of independence, existing conditions, and physical capabilities. Check out these other factors you may want to consider for your loved one.
There are a lot of benefits to hiring a caregiver. Not only can they aid in providing a safe environment for your loved one he or she can also provide companionship for those aging at home alone, oversee daily activities, keep a watchful eye over your loved one’s condition, and alert you of any red flags. If a personal caregiver isn’t in the budget, consider electing a family member.
If you don’t feel comfortable allowing your loved one to cook or they are simply not able, consider ordering a meal service. There are a variety of options available to fit any diet and meals can be delivered on a regular basis. Most can simply be heated in the microwave. With a meal plan, you’ll know the exact nutrition your loved one is receiving and won't have to worry about missed meals or dangerous cooking situations.
Consider giving your loved one an emergency call button to wear around his or her neck. Smart watches are also equipped with emergency features. Teach them how to properly use the device. In the case of an accident, slip, or fall the button will be easy to access when a phone may be out of reach. Medical alert devices are great for remote monitoring and provide some peace of mind knowing that if something happens, you or emergency responders will be alerted.
Keep a list of emergency contacts by the phone or an easily accessed and visible location (i.e. the refrigerator door), and they should be programmed into smart phones Be sure to include the following:
As technology advances, smart home hubs are growing in popularity. These voice activated personal assistants can keep your home connected, safe and secure with the ability to make calls, play music, adjust the thermostat, set reminders or timers, search the web, and most importantly function as a security or emergency alert system. There may be a slight learning curve but if your aging parent is capable, both parties will benefit from setting up a smart home system.
Medications are not uncommon for aging adults. Make sure to educate yourself on the possible side effects of prescribed medications and be on the lookout for any red flags. These may include symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, blurry vision, and many more that can inhibit the ability to cook or perform other kitchen tasks safely. If you ever notice side effects, speak with the doctor right away and temporarily keep your loved one out of the kitchen until sorted out.
Without a doubt, it takes a lot of work to optimize for kitchen safety but the payoff is huge. Taking the extra steps and knowing that your loved one is set up for safety will give you peace of mind while allowing him or her to live more independently. Take this guide and evaluate your current situation then implement the changes we have discussed. You can also download and print this free safety checklist.