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Safer Senior Living – The Kitchen

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In my last posting I spoke to ways to improve the safety and accessibility of the bath for seniors who choose to age in place at home.  Some of the same preventive measures can apply to the kitchen, but the kitchen also poses some of its own unique hazards. 

As with the bath, beware of scatter rugs in front of sinks or food preparation areas.  Areas that may be targets for water or grease spills should have non-slip mats or nothing at all.   Check all thresholds leading to and from the kitchen to be sure there is nothing that may be trip hazard to individuals whose stride may be devolving to a shuffle.  For individuals who may be unsteady on their feet, consider grip bars in key spots as well as check the walkways in and around dining areas to make sure there is enough clearance for easy mobility.  Also look for electric cords or clutter on the floor.

As with all areas of the house, check to see how much wattage can be accommodated by fixtures, and maximize the light while also minimizing the shadows cast by the lighting.  In addition to task and ambient lighting while the elders are using the kitchen, place night lights in strategic parts of the kitchen to aid with walking late at night.  As with the bath, you may also consider the night lights that automatically turn on when the ambient light falls beneath a critical threshold.  As a person ages more and more items on upper shelves may be out of reach.  Facilitate easier access to upper shelves with step stool that also has a grip bar on top.  Reinforce in your conversations with your loved one that stepping onto chairs to reach a shelf is always a fall hazard.  If practical, move frequently used items to lower shelves or to the counter top.  You may also consider the assistive grab devices that can be as easily used to retrieve items from floor level as to grab items from higher shelves.  Check out Sammons Preston; beware of heavier items that may fall on the reacher.

Gripping may also be a challenge to individuals as they age, especially cast iron skillets – great for cooking, but hard to manage.  With less manual strength, opening jars or bottles can be difficult.  The gripping devices that fit over the lid can make turning or twisting a great deal easier.  Check out kitchen and other supply stores like the Container Store.  Similarly, there are accommodating devices that can help with cutting, can opening and other day to day tasks that require nimble hands or stronger grips.  There also are nonslip bowls, cups, knives and more.

I had mentioned the potential for forgetfulness.  If your loved one leaves the lights on or the ice cream out on the counter, they will not pose a hazard to their safety.  If the gas stove is left on or an oven is left baking, these can be real fire risks.  Consider getting portable timers that your elder can carry with them after starting the cooking.  It is better that they have the time with them so that they will be sure to hear the alarm when it goes off that left behind in the kitchen where they may not hear it.  And one more caution regarding the stove.  If your loved one retains a gas stove, talk to them about avoiding loose-fitting clothes that could catch fire.  And if there has been a real accident already, either disconnect the stove (with the help of a professional), or replace it with an electric cook top. 

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.,geriatric care manager Chicago, geriatric care Chicago

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