There are some things that can be done quickly and easily in the kitchen area when choosing to Age in Place either by the homeowner or if necessary, by a qualified contractor. Some of these things include simple things like reorganizing for task specific areas in the kitchen to removal of possible obstacles in the pathway of travel.
When looking at the kitchen, consider how the user works and organize the kitchen layout to make it easier for finding the items needed when doing specific tasks. An example would be if the user frequents the microwave and the proximity of what they are doing with the microwave. Are they warming up their coffee? If so, make sure the coffee cups are located near the microwave or vice versa. (One safety consideration for the microwave is the placement: make sure it is located so that the user is not reaching overhead. It could spill and cause burns when reaching to pull hot items out and trying to put it down on the counter).
Consider varying the work surfaces in the kitchen. Some things are done standing up, like washing dishes (usually) but what if the user is preparing vegetables or something that requires a longer period of time? Could a space be made that the user could sit down and work from a seated position? Kitchen surfaces ideally would have two or three height surfaces to make it easier for different tasks to be done.
Install cabinetry features that include storage drawers instead of shelves and cabinet pullouts. These items can be purchased in a ready made fashion from companies like Rev-a-shelf and can be found at the big box warehouses like Lowes. Additional simple fixes include changing the cabinet handles to pulls shaped like C’s that allow for easy opening. More extensive cabinetry changes include easy-glides, installing lazy-Susan’s and lowering the upper cabinets for easier accessibility.
Consider the flooring choices. Tile is very durable but can cause slipping hazards and increased maintenance issues with cleaning and grout, etc. A good alternative would be laminate or engineered wood with a texture. Always install a finish that is non-slip and consider comfort. An extremely hard surface means more stress and discomfort for aging joints and bones. In addition, slip hazards account for a large amount of broken hips; a definite safety hazard for those who are aging in place.
When choosing color, choose a contrast so that aging eyes can make a distinction between the cabinets and floors, etc. When everything is all one color like white, it is more difficult to see. Also consider installing task lighting in work areas. Eyesight is not as clear as the eyes age. Even the inside cabinetry color choices can make it easier to work in the kitchen. Lighter colors make it easier to see what is in the cabinet.
Consider replacing some utensils and cooking implements to make kitchen use easier. Consider replacing pots and pans with those that will prevent heating of the handles, make sure handles are secure and strong enough to move the pots. Flimsy handles can cause the person to drop the pot and get burned. Strength is lost with age as is flexibility.
Sometimes the person doesn’t want to get rid of a pot because they have had it forever: consider safety and ease. Some of the older pots and pans show their wear and tear and need the handles tightened and/or replaced.
So many things can be accomplished with just a few changes and considerations in preparing a kitchen to age in place safely. Making changes to the kitchen slowly and with a plan in place will create a space that is safe, comfortable and low maintenance not only now but for many years to come providing a haven for those aging in place. I welcome your comments or questions. More information can be found on my website: www.aechurba-design, the NKBA website, and at the AARP website. Take care.