Ageless Design: A Kitchen for Seniors
Cary, NC — Don’t assume that redesigning your kitchen to be “ageless” is all about grab bars, neutral colors and awkward cabinets. Universal design is beautiful and enjoyable for all.
What’s an Ageless Kitchen?
As this concept is becoming more popular, manufacturers are coming out with more adaptable and attractive products. Getting an “ageless” kitchen does, often, not require remodeling.
When taking on everyday tasks in the kitchen, most seniors face a range of physical challenges. As part of my aging-in-place senior living series, I’ll go over that limitations that are in many current kitchens and give suggestions to make it ageless.
Storing Food & Other Items
Because seniors have difficulty both reaching high and bending down low, store important items on the shelves in the kitchen cabinets and pantry that are between shoulder and knee level. Smaller containers and lighter objects can go higher, while heavier ones, particularly those made of glass or ceramic, should be placed lower down.
Roll-out shelves in lower cabinets are ideal for young and old to safely reach items. You can modify cabinets with the help of Tina Smith from Apex Cabinet, a local company, where many other variations are on display.
There are many manufacturers of cabinets and accessories for kitchen accessibility. Some have motorized cabinets that move up and down remotely or by crank. Many manufactured cabinets allow bi-fold base-cabinet doors to open fully, providing maximum use of clear knee space for people seated or in wheelchairs. Most stores have items to adapt current cabinets such as Lazy-Susans and full-extension slides for drawers and shelves.
For seniors or anyone with disabilities, and particularly for those who use wheelchairs, major appliance manufacturers sell ADA-compliant side-by-side refrigerators, ovens and dishwashers. Stoves at waist level that swing open sideways are much easier on the back. Simply selecting any stove top with the controls on the front reduces leaning over hot, boiling items.
Microwaves should go on counters so that they are easy to reach. Taking hot things out of a microwave over a glasstop stove is a recipe for disaster, even for youth. Placing microwaves at or below the counter is becoming much more popular in kitchen design for all households.
My favorite idea is simply installing the dishwasher at knee level or installing the relatively new multilevel two-drawer dishwashers. Elevating the dishwasher allows for loading and unloading without painful leaning over for anyone with a bad back. Creating a “working triangle” of refrigerator, range and sink will allow seniors to move through the space comfortably.
You may not be able to remodel your kitchen, but you can provide a more efficient and safer work space by de-cluttering your kitchen (I am a big offender here in my own house). Don’t stack things on the counters and don’t store anything that you use often on high shelves.
Any item that isn’t used regularly needs to be moved to a pantry, closet or elsewhere. One idea is to tag every item in your kitchen with red tape. Remove the tape when you use that item. If after six months there are still red tags, that means you should store those appliances or dishes elsewhere, or give them away. The needed items will be easier to find and reach.
Safety & Accessibility
Safety and ease-of-use are the focus of a good solid kitchen makeover. Here are some tips:
- Seniors need an appropriate level of visibility; make sure the kitchen is brightly lit.
- Ask the gas company to modify the stove to provide a gas odor that is strong enough to alert seniors if the pilot light goes out.
- Any timers or smoke alarms should be set at a frequency and volume that seniors can hear.
- Electric can openers and special faucets/cabinet hardware/handles can help. Because many seniors have strength issues, cabinet hardware that can be pulled is preferable to knobs or anything requiring twisting.
- Kitchen sinks and doors with single lever faucets are easier to operate.
The terms accessibility and universal design have become buzz words so that every room should be accessible to every family member. The very young and the very old are the most apt to have trouble navigating the kitchen…especially when they are hungry!
Remember, as I said in other articles in this series, safety is the key! A few simple fixes, or remodeling, can make the kitchen ageless and the heart of the home for everyone.
Nancy Caggia earned her SRES/Senior Real Estate Specialist and works at BHHS YSU Realty. Lead photo by Port of San Diego. Other photos by Tina Smith of Apex Cabinet and Paige W. Smith of Neuse Tile Service, Inc.
Read more about aging in place.