We all know the kitchen is the heart of the home. The kitchen plays a central role in day to day life and is frequented most often. It is also a room that can use a lot of modifications as family members age and abilities decrease. Being able to continue using the kitchen safely and efficiently enables self-care for as long as possible: preparing healthy meals, saving money by eating at home, and preventing avoidable injuries. Making a few simple changes in the kitchen can allow a person to remain at home longer, with more independence. There are so many possible kitchen updates for better aging in place that the only limitations are one’s budget.
Updated Light Fixtures
Poor lighting is a contributor to accidents for elderly people whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Replacing older low wattage lights with newer, bright white LED bulbs and adding additional lighting around the kitchen can help. Under-the-cabinet lights can be installed to eliminate shadows on counters. Improved lighting can help an older person read recipes and directions and can enable him or her to grasp items with better confidence, avoiding spills and broken glass. The better the visibility in the kitchen, the less risk of injury.
Countertop and Sink Modifications
A kitchen is a place for a lot of movement. Countertops should reflect this by allowing for ample maneuvering space around the kitchen and with clearance spaces below in places such as under the sink or workstations. This allows for kitchens to be wheelchair accessible. Countertops can be lowered, or slide-out work surfaces can be installed to give additional counter space when needed and pushed in to save space when not in use. Depending on the budget, sinks can be electronically raised or lowered. An alternative to a motorized sink is a shallower sink. Sinks come in different depths and a 6” depth for a sink is a useful dimension that minimizes painful leaning over.
Reliability and Improved Functionality of Appliances
Appliances can also be lowered or raised up to make using them more convenient and safe. Dishwashers raised off the floor make loading and unloading easier on the back and joints. Ovens can also be raised to avoid painful bending and to make it easier to see when the heat needs to be turned down.
The refrigerator is a good place to apply the budget liberally. New refrigerators come with better lighting, more storage space in the doors, and better ice/water dispensers that make usability a priority. Updating appliances to energy efficient models is also a good way to save money and get a tax break at the end of the year. Having updated appliances should limit the amount of maintenance also. Newer appliances tend to be quieter and will help reduce background noise.
Pull Drawers and Cabinets
Storage is a major component of kitchens. Storage spaces should be readily accessible with easy-to-grab handles. Replacing the traditional knobs for “D” shaped handles makes them easier to grasp and open. There are also large “D” shaped bars that may be easier to grab than the smaller ones. There are also easy-glide drawers with built in organizers to make finding cooking utensils easier.
Some cabinets can be repurposed to get the most out of their space. Lazy Susan turntables can be installed in corner cabinets to avoid awkward digging around in dark spaces. Long cabinets can be given additional shelf space with a pull-out feature. When considering the storage accessibility for an aging in place kitchen, a good rule of thumb to follow is that the easier it is to find needed items, the better.
Many older homes could use a major facelift when it comes to the faucets. Older faucets often have hot/cold knobs that are difficult to turn on and that make grasping and turning a challenge. Replacing these with newer lever style hardware will not only make it easier and less painful for older persons to use, it can be easier to adjust water temperature and avoid burns on fragile skin. The newer faucets also have different settings that allow for more functional use, such as sprayers and detachable heads. There are also anti-scald devices that regulate the water temperature better and can be installed on the hot water heater itself for a relatively inexpensive way to prevent burns at the kitchen sink and everywhere else water comes into the home.
Monitoring Systems for the Smart Kitchen
Technology has advanced to the point where monitoring systems are being developed for the most vulnerable population, and that technology has made it to the kitchens. The Institute for Infocomm Research is working with the National University of Singapore to develop and test sensors that recognize accidents or potentially dangerous scenarios such as falls and burns within the kitchen. The newly designed intelligence system could be programmed to control hazardous conditions by shutting off stove top burners and contacting emergency responders. The future of kitchen safety may even include medication dispensers that monitor the time and type of pills taken, with only the correct pills dispensed at the right time.
Appearance and functionality are important when it comes to redesigning the kitchen. Older people have different needs as they age, and the kitchen is where the elderly are very vulnerable. The benefits of improving the most used living space in the home are worth the cost, as is knowing the kitchen is a safer and a more usable space. As more and more members of the graying population make the decision to age in place, the kitchen should be a priority to improve safety and comfort.
American Society of Interior Designers. Aging in Place: Aging and the Impact of Interior Design. Available at https://www.asid.org/sites/default/files/aging_in_place1.pdf. Last Visited April 30, 2016.
The National Aging in Place Council. Making Your Home Senior Friendly. Available at http://naipc.org/Practical-Advice/Housing/article/Making-Your-Home-Senior-Friendly. Last Visited April 30, 2016.
Wai, A. A. P., Devi, S. S., Biswas, J., and Panda, S. K. (2011). “Pervasive Intelligence System to Enable Safety and Assistance in the Kitchen for Home-Alone Elderly.” Toward Useful Services for Elderly People with Disabilities, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 6719: 276-280. Available at http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-21535-3_41. Last Visited April 30, 2016.