As seniors age, their abilities to live independently may falter. For some, moving in with family or into an assisted living place is key to keeping them safe, healthy and happy. However, moving may signify a loss of independence that many seniors are not ready to give up. For family members, watching their elderly relatives live alone may be worrisome, especially if the relative is older and has shown a loss of cognitive function. Living alone can be very dangerous for an elderly person. Various parts of the house can cause them to harm themselves or others. One major part of a home that is dangerous is the kitchen. Fires, burns, and other injuries can all occur while cooking a simple meal. If your elderly relatives live alone and want to continue doing so, then consider going through their home with them and adding a few safety features, especially in their kitchens.
Although most accidents of seniors occurs in the bathroom, seniors aged 65 and older have a 2.5 times greater risk of injury and death in kitchens, usually by cooking fires. However, seniors also can incur kitchen injuries in other ways, including falls, which, depending on the severity, may affect the bones.
Many seniors tend to be hard headed. They cannot accept the fact that their response capability isn’t what it used to be. Their maneuverability is compromised, and their minds may not be as sharp as before. Their eyesight may be weakened, and in cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s, they may accidentally put a can of food into the microwave.
If you have a senior who lives alone, or if you are living with a senior, you must take the initiative to create a safe, usable kitchen for them. Here are some ways to do this.
What Are Your Senior’s Needs? Does your senior use a wheelchair, walker, or cane? Have their cognitive abilities declined? Does your senior lose balance and sometimes fall? Is their vision okay? How quick are your senior’s reflexes? Do you see any onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia? These must be among your considerations when planning a safe kitchen for your senior.
Many seniors are victims of accidents in the kitchen such as falls due to the following reasons:
Seniors tend to lose their sight as they age, so this may be a good time to use bulbs with increased wattage, and place additional lighting over the sink, range, counter tops, and under cabinets. A night light should also be added because seniors who love their midnight chocolate will be more equipped to navigate the kitchen at this late hour.
The most common kitchen fires are grease fires. They occur when deep-frying oil, shortening, or butter splatters, or if oil seeps to the bottom of the frying pan. It also happens if you leave oil in the frying pan and forget to turn off the heat. WARNING: Don’t pour water over the pan if it’s on fire, and don’t move the pan. Also, don’t use a water-based fire extinguisher.
Teach your senior how to stop grease fires
Fire grows with oxygen. If you cover the pot with a lid or pan that is large enough to cover the entire pot and seal it, it will put the fire out. Turn off the oven and only remove the lid after the fire is completely out. (If you remove the lid too early, the fire might build up again.)
Potholders, oven mitts, towels or curtains should be situated a safe distance from heat sources.
Have the circuit breakers, outlets and switches checked by an electrician. Install cover plates on all outlets and switches, tack down all electrical cords to prevent tripping and keep cords away from appliances sinks, and stove tops.
Install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to prevent electrical overload.
Get a gas stove with an automatic shut-off feature.
Be sure the kitchen ventilation system is functional.
Keep smoke alarms in all rooms of the house and test them once a month
To avoid falls, determine what your senior uses most often when they are cooking. Place these items in cabinets at waist height or lower so they will be easy to reach.
Remember the old saying, “There is no place like home.” This is equally true for you and for your senior. For as long as possible, you want your senior to live independently and safely. We have given you a pretty long list to start with, but being mindful of your seniors’ safety can make you transform the kitchen from the second most dangerous area of the house for your senior, into one of its safest, and you will be able to sleep soundly at night knowing that you’ve done your best for the safety of the senior that you love and care about so much.