What Are Some Easy Adaptations in the Kitchen if Aging In Place?

Beth, an active, 89 year old woman lives alone in her one level townhome. She has lived alone for many years and has a good support network of family and friends from church. Beth is John’s cousin and they talk weekly. John has mentioned their search for a home to age in place and Beth has mentioned she has no intention of moving or spending her retirement on a pricey remodel.  She likes her townhome and, except for a few inconvenient nuisances, she is pretty content. Beth wears a monitor around her neck so she can receive help if something happens so this gives her some piece of mind.clip_image001

Beth is mulling around the need to make her kitchen a little safer and easier to work around in. Beth wants to be on top of this and make good choices so she consulted the website: www.aechurba-design, the NKBA website, and the AARP website. Some of these things she can do and she may have to call on her handyman to do some of the more difficult things.

She read that she should consider how she works and organize the kitchen layout to make it easier for finding the items needed when doing specific tasks.  First, she is going to reorganize the kitchen into task-specific areas. She is going to put her coffee pot by the cupboard that has the coffee cups and she will reorganize the adjacent cupboard so she can have her coffee and powdered creamer right there.  Since she re-warms her coffee several times a day she is going to have her handyman move the microwave close to this area too. Beth knows she needs to keep the microwave on the countertop or somewhere that she won’t be reaching overhead. Her dear friend Elfreida dropped a hot dish of food and got burned when lifting it down from above the stove. It was horrible.

She moves the garbage can out of her pathway. She looks around to make sure the floor is clear of obstacles.

She decided to get her friend and handyman Caleb to come over so she could discuss the information with him. “Caleb, here is what the article by this A.E. Churba says:”

“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. 

Kitchen flooring is an important subject for those who are designing or remodeling for aging in place.  Not only is it a matter of safety but additionally it is a matter of comfort.  The longer a person lives, their body begins to lose muscle tone, bone mass and inflammation of joints may occur.  It is important to choose appropriate flooring to help reduce the discomfort these can produce.  Flooring choices that are safer, have lower maintenance requirements and are more comfortable are beneficial to all family members including those choosing to age in place.”

Beth looked at Caleb and he said, “So, what would be a better alternative to placing tile in the kitchen?”

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Depending on the homeowners tastes and style, there are a number of better choices that range from cork flooring to laminates (it says to check out Armstrong floors) to engineered wood and even hard wood (says make sure it does not require stripping and waxing).  These floorings have some give or bounce to them that will help alleviate some of the discomfort that standing for prolonged periods on a hard surface causes.

Another thing it says to keep in mind when choosing kitchen flooring is the slip factor.  “Ceramic tile can create a potential slip issue.  Some tiles become very slippery when there is liquid on the surface.  Think about what will happen when there is water on the floor from spillage and cleaning. Look for products that have a bit of a texture to them so there is traction.”

“Caleb, I would like to look at installing some cabinetry features that include storage drawers instead of shelves and maybe some cabinet pullouts.” 

“Those are not hard to find Beth, we can find them ready-made to install. There is one company by the name of Rev-a-shelf, I think and I have seen those sorts of things at the big box warehouses,” said Caleb.  You should look at those new fangled dishwasher drawers I was telling you about.  You wouldn’t have to lean over so much and you could was your dishes more than once a week like you do now.”dishwasher drawer

“Caleb, that sounds good.  I would also like to do some additional things like changing the cabinet handles to pulls shaped like D’s that allow for easy opening.  I will need you to do the more extensive cabinetry changes like putting in some easy-glides. I am so glad there were already lazy-Susans installed before I moved in and the upper cabinets were lowered for easier accessibility.”

“Oh, listen to this, 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 and flexibility are lost with age.” 

“I guess I should also get rid of a couple of those old pots I have had forever since the handles are bad. I guess those really aren’t safe to use. There are so many things I can do to make things safer as I continue to live here. I think if we can get these things changed a little at a time, I can remain here for another five years or so! God willing and the creeks don’t rise, right Caleb?”

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.   Take care.  

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