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Aging in the Right Place: Are You Doing Everything You Can to Make Sure Your Kitchen is Safe?

Posted on November 18, 2019 by Michael Moore Jr., Herald-Tribune Media Group

Dinner has long been an occasion for family and friends to come together and not only share meals but make memories. The kitchen, therefore, has always had a special place in our homes and our hearts.

But not all rooms are the same when it comes to safety. And while kitchens might not be as dangerous as bathrooms, they still pose some distinct risks, which often lands them in consideration for the second most dangerous room in the house. For those choosing to remain at home as they age, this is something to look out for.

There are some steps — some simple and inexpensive, while others remain more complex and quite pricey — that can be taken to make the kitchen a more accommodating place for people planning to age in place.

The two primary dangers surrounding the space, according to certified Aging in Place specialists Ernest Gilbert and Richard Acree, boil down to falls and fires.

“If you have an area where you’ve got to maneuver a bit, and it’s too tight, that can be a danger,” said Gilbert, president and CEO of Bradenton and Sarasota-based remodeling firm Gilbert Design Build, which specializes in kitchen and bath remodels, along with aging in place home modifications.

The kitchen is a common area for falls, which is why having clear and distinct pathways through the area, along with ample space to move about freely, is an essential first step to making the room safe. This also means designing your kitchen with passageways that are wide enough to allow for a wheelchair or walker potentially. You might not need it or think about it much now, but years from now, it could become essential to your aging experience.

You should also look at flooring. As always, avoid throw rugs, which can become the catalyst for all kinds of accidents. Consider something like nonslip tile, vinyl, linoleum, or wood flooring — something that prevents slipping and would allow a wheelchair or a walker to roll over it smoothly.

Remodeling isn’t a feasible option for everybody, but when it comes to floors, there are affordable slip prevention textures you can apply, which may help.

Fires are also a common danger in the kitchen, and those over the age of 65 have more than twice the risk of dying in a kitchen fire than the general population, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Burn hazards and falls are the two primary hazards you need to look out for and be mindful of,” said Acree, owner of the consulting firm ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Inspections Nationwide. He recommends an electric cooktop device without raised burners, which he says makes it easier to clean while reducing the likelihood of spills or grease fires.

Many experts, Acree said, recommend magnetic induction stovetops, which reduce the chance for burns because heat is produced only directly below or next to the pot and cools down relatively quickly after being turned off.

The placement of your microwave, according to Acree, is also essential. He recommends not placing it over your stove or oven, as many do, to reduce the likelihood of accidents and to also keep it in reach if you find yourself in a position where you are using a wheelchair in the future — at or below counter height is preferable.

Here are a few other fixes that can make your kitchen easier and safer as you age:

  • Many experts recommend using multilevel countertops as a way to accommodate everyone. Color-coded, rounded edges can also provide a visual cue that can help reduce injuries.

  • Adequate lighting is also important; automatic light switches, rocker type switches, and under-cabinet lighting are all great options.

  • Having accessible sinks, which might mean making them shallow or giving them toe space underneath so that those in a wheelchair can pull up to them directly instead of parallel, can be helpful.

  • Using lever faucet handles is also highly recommended for those with arthritis, according to experts.

  • Pullout cabinets that help make items reachable without bending down excessively can also be the difference between successfully retrieving a pot and pan or taking a nasty spill on the floor.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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