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While moving into a nursing home or assisted care facility is the best option for some seniors, many prefer to stay in their own homes, called “aging in place,” for as long as possible.
Aging in place offers comfort and familiarity to people whose bodies and minds are going through complex changes. Staying in their homes allows them to remain close to family, friends, and neighbors and maintain their daily routines.
The main advantage of aging in place is that it allows elderly and disabled people with limited physical and mental capacities to maintain the most independence and dignity possible.
Unfortunately, most modern home designs do not keep accessibility in mind. Various spaces will often require specific modifications to be livable for someone who might have more trouble getting around than an average person.
In addition to bathrooms and bedrooms, kitchens are one of the most important spaces to modify to fit the needs of an aging or disabled resident. Being able to cook for oneself and prepare meals is a crucial aspect of independence that is a significant advantage of aging in place.
Additionally, the kitchen is home to an abundance of equipment that can be the source of accidents if the proper precautions are not in place. To keep your family member safe and well at home, certain modifications to the kitchen will become necessary.
The following section will explore how to assess the space and determine what kind and degree of modifications are necessary to achieve the best results for the individual to remain in their home and age in place.
The exact modifications your family member’s kitchen will need are particular to the existing space and the degree of their disability. However, this article will cover some common issues that the disabled and elderly face when their needs become too much for a standard kitchen.
There are a few main factors you will want to consider when redesigning a kitchen to be more accessible.
Primarily, you will need to consider how the resident’s needs might evolve and change over time. Perhaps they can stand and move around quite quickly during the remodel, but what if this changes in the future? Will the space still be accessible if they use a walker or a wheelchair to move around it?
When updating a kitchen for a disabled or older adult, think about the possible trajectories of their condition(s), so they can use the space for years to come.
While each individual’s needs and health conditions are unique, there are a handful of common problems that affect elderly and disabled people that a few simple modifications can solve. A kitchen that is too small and narrow for maneuverability will pose difficulties. On the other hand, for some who have mobility issues, a kitchen that is too large will be just as hard to navigate.
Other common problems that make kitchens inaccessible to older adults include:
The following section will explore some budget-friendly modifications to each of these areas to help make a kitchen safe and functional for people with limited physical mobility. Read on to learn how you can help improve a kitchen for aging in place!
This section will cover some of the areas in home kitchens that are typically problematic for elderly or disabled people and some ways to modify them to be more accessible.
Lighting is one of the most straightforward fixes that can help make a kitchen more friendly to an elderly or disabled person.
Many seniors struggle with worsening eyesight as they age, and having a well-lit space where they can easily see where they are going and what they are cooking is essential for helping them stay safe.
If there is not much natural or artificial lighting in the kitchen, consider adding some simple lamps or track lights to brighten the space. If you have the budget, you can splurge on automatic lights that detect motion and turn them on as soon as a person enters the room.
Since motion sensors are not within everybody’s budget, a less expensive modification you can make is to the light switches themselves. Rather than a traditional switch, consider changing these fixtures out for a rocker switch.
These require less dexterity in the hands and fingers to turn on and off than a traditional light switch, making them an excellent option for older people who might struggle with conditions like arthritis.
Many older people develop mobility issues that make it difficult to reach up into a tall cabinet or bend down to pull something out of a drawer close to the floor. Having accessible storage for pantry items, as well as larger appliances and hand tools, is crucial in a kitchen for a senior.
This modification can be as simple as rearranging items so that those used daily are the easiest to reach. If the person using the kitchen uses a wheelchair, be sure that the upper cabinets are empty of anything essential for cooking or dining.
For people with dexterity issues, faucets that twist can be difficult to turn on and off. Replacing the faucets with levers that push up and down makes sinks easier to use for people who struggle with arthritis in their hands.
Countertops should be at an appropriate height, whether a person can walk unassisted or uses a wheelchair. Purchasing a shorter work table or bench will significantly help a person in a wheelchair be able to use the counters to prepare food.
If you have the budget for an entire kitchen remodel, consider installing multi-level countertops that allow for accessibility from both standing and seated positions.
The oven, sink, and refrigerator are a kitchen's three most frequently accessed points. A kitchen design in which these spots are close together can help minimize excess movement, and this feature is an advantage for someone who experiences chronic fatigue or lowered energy levels that come with aging.
The refrigerator should be easy to open, with a long handle that can be pulled open from multiple heights.
A microwave is a modern appliance that is excellent for accessibility. It offers many shortcuts to cooking that are useful to someone who might not have the energy to prepare a complete meal on the stove or in the oven.
Microwaves should ideally be placed on the countertop rather than raised at eye level to minimize the need to reach up above one’s head. If you are buying a new microwave, look for one with large text and numbers that are easy to read for someone with impaired eyesight.
Many people love to grill and barbecue in the warmer months of the year, and seniors are no exception! Ensure that an outdoor kitchen is accessible by purchasing an electric grill that does not require a person to bend down or lift a heavy propane tank to get started.
Additionally, make sure that the route from the kitchen to the patio or deck is free of obstacles or steps that may be difficult to navigate.
Modifying each of these elements of a kitchen for aging in place may seem like a daunting task. For this reason, many people who undertake the project of updating a space for a disabled or older adult outsource some or all of the labor to an accessibility contractor.
Is it better to hire someone to help modify a kitchen, or should you try attempting it yourself? The decision will likely boil down to two points: budget and modification requirements.
Whether you decide to renovate the kitchen yourself or hire a contractor is mainly up to two factors: your budget and the degree of modifications needed.
If you are trying to invest minimal funds into kitchen updates, you will find that many modifications can be done with your hands and a little elbow grease. If the person needs new appliances or a new floorplan, on the other hand, you might be better off seeking the help of a professional.
While there is no single answer for how to easily perform kitchen modifications for the disabled and elderly, the decision and results will allow your loved one to age in place in the comfort and familiarity of their own home.
The outcome of the project and room will depend on individual needs, the budget for renovations, and the space itself, but there are common modifications necessary to make kitchens safe areas for those aging in place.
6 Affordable Ways to Create a Senior-Friendly Kitchen – DailyCaring
Kitchen Of The Future: Remodeling For Comfortable Aging In Place - AgingInPlace.org