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Creating An Accessible Kitchen For Your Senior With Limited Mobility

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Often referred to as the heart of the home, the kitchen is an important part of any house. Being able to navigate through the kitchen is a key part of being able to live independently and age in place. 

Depending on your loved one’s mobility, a kitchen design can be a difficult part of the home to move around and function efficiently in. At times, the kitchen can even be dangerous. 

Luckily, there are several ways to make your loved one’s kitchen more accessible and functional, sometimes with only slight adaptations. Many are easy fixes that can be done for a low cost, without a full kitchen remodel, but still have a significant impact on ensuring safety. 


11 DIY Suggestions For An Age-In-Place Friendly Kitchen


Making your loved one’s kitchen more accessible doesn’t have to be a large, home modification. Instead, small adaptations that homeowners can do themselves or with the help of family members can have large payoffs in increasing the accessibility of a kitchen space.

Let’s review a few helpful DIY suggestions that can help transform your loved one’s kitchen and make it safe to use.


1. Round corners on countertops 

Place soft, round corners on your loved one’s kitchen counters. This will decrease the risk of bruises, tripping, or skin tears should they walk into a counter corner. 


2. Increasing organization

Lazy Susan’s are a great inexpensive way to make storage more accessible. They can be placed within cabinets and pantries, or left on the counter. 

Spice racks can also be beneficial in keeping frequently used ingredients organized. Having things organized will decrease the chance of your loved one shuffling around to look for things, which can increase their risk of falling.

3. Be Strategic 

Be strategic about storage in your loved one’s kitchen. Place frequently used items at arms level, whether this is frequent ingredients or small appliances. 

Don’t push items too far back on the countertops. The goal of an accessible kitchen is to decrease the amount of bending and reaching that needs to be done to function successfully.

4. Preparation at the Right Level 

When preparing meals, it’s important the workspace is at the correct height. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, consider a small table in the kitchen that they can use while sitting. This can also be effective for individuals who may struggle with standing for too long. 

If you're open to a larger project, remove some base cabinets to create open workspaces for wheelchair users. Place an opening under the open countertop for a workspace, and place another under the kitchen sink. This can be done by removing the base cabinets under these spaces. 

Some people will also make an opening under the cooktop if it does not sit on top of the oven.


5. Update cabinets 

Assess your loved one’s upper and lower cabinets.

Small knobs can be difficult to maneuver for someone with arthritis in their hands. Look into large knobs or even cabinets that can open by touch control.

Open shelving can reduce the need for knobs entirely and allow for easy access to items in the kitchen cabinets. Pull-out cabinets can also add accessibility as they allow your loved one to access the contents from the side.


6. Update lighting 

Since vision changes with age, make sure your loved one’s kitchen is well-lit. Add under the cabinet lighting, or even lighting under cabinets on the floor to light a pathway at night.

Consider updating to light switches that can be turned on with the push of a button, rather than standard light switches that may be difficult to maneuver for someone with arthritis.


7. Using technology 

Technology advancements can end up greatly benefiting your loved one in the kitchen.

Consider using an automatic stove shut-off. Automatic stoves work in different ways, but ultimately can turn the stove off or alert a family member if your loved one forgets to turn the stove off. A Google or Amazon search for “automatic stove shut-offs” will bring up a variety of options. 

Additionally, consider making your loved one’s faucet automatic. This will make it easier for them if they struggle with knobs or if they’re likely to turn the faucet off. There are simple devices that can be added to a standard faucet such as this device here.

Make your loved one’s kitchen a “smart kitchen” with appliances that can connect to a device such as an “Alexa”. These devices can allow you to control various appliances with your voice. They also provide an easy way to call for help, if your loved one has fallen and is not in reach of the phone.


8. Make sure flooring is smooth 

Remove any floor mats or rugs from the floor because they can easily become fall hazards. 

Some types of flooring, such as a laminate or vinyl, will be best for wheelchairs, compared to flooring that may add resistance (such as tile).


9. Choosing the right kitchen tools: 

If your loved one has porcelain or glass dishes and cups, swap them out for plastic. That will decrease the chance of breakage in the event of a fall. 

Consider kitchen tools that may be designed specifically for individuals with limited mobility. For example, cutting boards exist with short walls on the edges to keep the ingredient on the board.


10. Update appliances 

Some large appliances are easier to navigate than others. Sometimes small appliances can be safer and easier to navigate.

Try getting your loved one to  use  a small water heater. If your loved one enjoys a hot cup of tea, look into a water heater. Water heaters are essentially teapots that heat up by simply plugging them in, rather than turning on the stovetop.

Consider a side-by-side refrigerator and freezer. This will eliminate the need for your loved one to do significant reaching either up or down to the freezer. 

Look into an induction stovetops. Induction stovetops work with specific types of pots that are compatible with their burners

An induction stovetop can reduce the chances of leaving a stove on and of burns. Many say this is a different type of cooking, but it can have impactful safety benefits.


11. Assess the kitchen layout 

If your loved one uses a wheelchair there may be larger projects needed to create a wheelchair-accessible kitchen. If your loved one has steps that lead into the kitchen, add a small ramp with a railing, or grab bars on the wall (if they are walking).

Place all necessary kitchen items in the base cabinets so that they are within reach.

Make sure the kitchen has enough open space for maneuvering, especially if your loved one uses a wheelchair or walker. If space is limited and cannot be expanded, that may be a sign that the kitchen is not feasible for aging in place.

Consider where appliances such as the kitchen sink, stove, refrigerator are placed. The ADA recommends that these should be able to be accessed from the side when necessary.


Looking To Modify Your Loved One’s Kitchen?


Making small, yet impactful changes to your loved one’s kitchen can increase their chances of being able to safely age in place. It’s important to try to anticipate challenges that your loved one may face, before there is an urgent situation.

Talk with your loved one’s physician or consult with a physical therapist about how your loved one’s mobility may impact their safety in the kitchen. Ask questions about how your loved one’s abilities may change as they continue to age. You can assess your loved one’s kitchen by using a safety checklist - such as this one from AARP.

Laurel McLaughlin

Laurel McLaughlin has over a decade worth of experience in various sectors of the elder care field- home care, senior living, and non-profits. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is a certified dementia practitioner.

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