Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place Part 3: The Kitchen

By Cheryl Proska
This blog is part of a series called ‘Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place.’ According to AARP, 87% of adults age 65+ want to continuing living in their current home as they age. To help ensure your home is ready to age with you, Friends Life Care presents ‘Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place’ – a blog series that explores how to make your home safer, smarter and better, one room at a time. Click here to read Part 1: The Entrance, and click here to read Part 2: Stairways & Halls.

Living independently in your own home for as long as you can is important to many aging Americans.

But not all homes are suitable for individuals with physical limitations or disabilities. A key to aging in place and living independently is making sure your home can accommodate your needs, as well as those of anyone in the house with you.

This third installment in our series on home modifications is meant to help you think about what your home’s kitchen may need as you and your loved ones age to keep it safe and accessible.

Areas to focus on:

Flooring (make it non-slip)

Avoid slippery waxes on floors. All flooring surfaces in the kitchen should be non-slip, even when wet. This can be achieved by using a number of different materials on the floor.

Pick the materials you prefer, just as long as the bottom line result is the same — the surface doesn’t get slick.

If you’re going to use a rug or mat by the sink, make sure it has a non-slip, rubber backing to prevent it from sliding.

Work surfaces (have a place to sit)

prepare to age at home my installing collapsible work stations in your kitchen

As you age, standing for long periods of time gets more difficult. As a result, it can be less-taxing and safer to make sure you have a surface you can work at while seated — to prep food, read recipes, etc.

And if you’re in a wheelchair, installing a work surface you can sit at becomes paramount.

This can be accomplished in a number of ways, such as:

  • moving a small table and chair into the kitchen
  • installing a pull-out work surface, and/or
  • removing doors or shelves from lower cabinets, which will allow you to sit in a chair next to your counter top.

Fridge (think two doors)

Yes, some fridges can even make your kitchen more functional as you age.

For example, double-door fridges are easier to open and take up less space when open than single-door fridges. Those can be very important features for those using a walker.

Having an ice maker and water dispenser have their benefits as well. They reduce the number of times you have to open the fridge, and they make it easier to stay hydrated, which is critical as you age.

Stove/oven (reach less)

As you age, you can lose our dexterity. That can make reaching over burners, and hot pots and pans a dangerous proposition. As a result, it’s recommended that older Americans have a stove with the controls at the front.

However, this may not be the case if you will have young children in the home. You don’t want them to be able to turn a burner or the oven on, which can create burn and fire hazards.

(Pro tip: When frying, either in deep oil or in a dish, always have the lid for that pot within easy reach. Covering the pot will be your first line of defense for putting out a fire. It’ll suffocate the fire.)

If someone’s going to remodel your kitchen anyway, you might want to consider a wall oven — because it’s taller, so you don’t have to bend and lift heavy dishes out of the oven. Plus, now, you can put your stove top anywhere you want.

Having an oven with a door that opens out to the side can be even nicer — because then the door isn’t in your way as you’re pulling dishes out.

Lighting (make it bright)

Make sure you have plenty of light in the kitchen — especially in the areas you’ll be working most.

Next, consider having the lights on a three-way switch, so you can turn them on from every entry and exit point in the kitchen. Rocker-style light switches are also a smart addition to any kitchen because they’re easier for those with disabilities or arthritis to operate. Plus, they can be lighted.

Under-cabinet lighting can provide a big improvement as well. It has gotten less expensive with LED fixtures, and it makes a huge difference in being able to see what you’re doing on the counter.

Faucet (avoid twist knobs)

Lever-style, one-touch or automatic faucets are much easier to operate if you develop arthritis, a disability or begin to lose motor control.

Avoid faucets with twist-knobs.

It’s also a good idea to have the water temperature regulated to not exceed 120 degrees to prevent burns.

Microwave (keep it low)

The more you age, the more overhead microwaves become dangerous. You don’t want to be pulling hot, heavy dishes out of a raised unit. It drastically increases the chances of hurting yourself.

Consider lowering your microwave to counter level.

Fire extinguisher (put it within reach)

A lot of homeowners wisely have fire extinguishers in the kitchen, but many times they’re not in a convenient, easy-to-reach place.

Make sure you have an easy-to-use, ABC-rated fire extinguisher in an place that’s easy to reach.

(Pro tip: Place a fire extinguisher near your exit. This allows you to fight the fire in a position in which you can easily exit the home should the fire get out of control.)

Wheelchair/walker space (think 36 inches)

In general, you want to have room within the kitchen to get around — 36 inches minimum. Make sure the island and counter are at least 36 inches apart – for easy wheelchair or walker access.

Even if you don’t use a wheelchair or a walker right now, you may suffer an injury or temporary disability that will require the use of one. Making sure this moving space exists is a way to manage through a temporary or permanent health problem.

Odds & ends:

Other things worth considering for your kitchen:

  • Install a soap dispenser that can be operated with one hand. Think about what you’d do if you were injured and only had the use of one hand.
  • Replace knob-style handles on your cabinets and drawers with D-shaped handles. This will make opening them easier if you suffer from arthritis or become injured.
  • Make sure there’s an easy-to-access telephone. You want to be able to call for help in the event of an accident or injury.
  • Consider a laundry shoot, especially if you’re remodeling. A lot of homes have the washer/dryer in the basement under the kitchen, and a laundry shoot can eliminate the hassle and danger of carrying large loads of laundry downstairs.
  • Look into installing a washer and dryer next to the kitchen. This can eliminate the need to go downstairs to do laundry. Don’t have much room? Innovations have made washer and dryer unites much more compact and even stackable, so they can fit in spaces never traditionally considered large enough for them.

 

A big “thank-you” to Lauren Young Lapin, MS, OTR-L, CAPS for helping to prepare this information. Lapin is a Wellness Coordinator & Home Accessibility Specialist with Friends Life Care. She’s a licensed Occupational Therapist, and she has special credentials as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, from the National Association of Home Builders (CAPS certified). She has extensive experience in cognitive assessment and home modification/accessibility.

Friends Life Care can provide home accessibility evaluations free to its members. It can also provide them to the general public in some areas of the Delaware Valley for a small fee.

Contact Friends Life Care for more information — and stay tuned for the next part in our series: Preparing Your Home for Aging in Place.

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