Improving a kitchen’s overall functionality for an aging in place residence will look similar to an upgrade if it is done correctly. The final takeaway: a more functional kitchen makes the space more useful for anyone, especially for a resident who may possibly have limited mobility, motor skills or other physical constraints. So, when in doubt, go for utility. Apply suggestions in a way that makes sense in the room. Above all, consider the individual for whom all of the work is being done. Everyone requires something slightly different, and the best way to respect the aging in place resident is to customize your kitchen solutions to their specific needs.
Doorways & Flooring
An aging in place residence should have additional clearance around all doorways and thoroughfares. In most homes, these passageways are only 24 inches, which do not allow access for a walker. Proper access for wheelchairs requires 42 to 48 inches of clearance for all pathways. Doorways should be at least 36 inches wide for the same reasons.
No matter what your budget, make the flooring in your kitchen and elsewhere in the house a top priority. Spills that are not easily cleaned can lead to slips and falls. Any floor covering that you choose should be non-glare. Avoid carpet tape at all costs. And don’t even think of incorporating rugs as a part of your kitchen floor aesthetic – there is a reason they are called “throw” rugs!
Lighting & Light Switches
Make sure that light reaches wherever it needs to be, especially in the high-use areas of the kitchen. Under-cabinet lighting will help to illuminate work areas that would otherwise be dark. You can also add task or track lighting to make sure that anyone at home has the appropriate light no matter when or where they choose to work.
Make sure that light switches are easy to use and accessibly placed. There should be a light switch near the entrance of the kitchen in arm’s reach before the resident has a chance to get to any sharp items or small appliances. One of the most popular home automation features is an automatic light switch that turns on as soon as a person enters the kitchen. If this is not an option, rocker type light switches are usually the most convenient for an aging in place residence. Bolster the safety of your kitchen by using windows to increase the amount of natural light in the room. Protect everyone’s privacy with easily accessible blinds, making sure that the throw string is long enough to easily reach without becoming a slip-and-fall hazard.
No single kitchen outlet should be overworked (more than two appliances plugged into any one station). Overworking an outlet increases the chances of an electrical accident. Make sure that the number of appliances in the kitchen does not exceed the capacity of the kitchen.
No appliance should be connected to an outlet that passes over the sink or any other source of water. If there is not enough room for an outlet, either reduce the number of appliances in the kitchen or reorganize the countertop to make room for the appliance to be near an outlet.
No Speed Bumps
Get rid of any door curbs that separate the kitchen from the rest of the house. Ideally, the entrance to the kitchen should be flat with no “speed bumps” between rooms. If your budget won’t allow removing door curbs within the infrastructure of the home, you can install a slope that will ease the transition from room to room and eliminate the possibility of slips, trips and falls.
Cabinets & Countertops
Cabinets should not be difficult to reach. In general, upper cabinets should be placed around 3 inches lower than their usual height in an “aging in place” residence. If the upper cabinets are especially tall, you may want to consider adding a pullout step around the perimeter of the floor. A pull-down shelf in your upper cabinets keeps people from having to overreach in order to access what they need.
As you change out your counters for an aging in place residence, keep an eye to accessibility and function as you choose your new configuration. Multilevel countertops are one great way to increase maneuverability and choice – anyone at home can reach the countertop that is most convenient at any given time. The standard height of a countertop is 36 inches; another level at 30 inches will make room for people who would rather sit than stand.
Ovens & Stove Tops
The wall oven is one of the most versatile, convenient and safe versions of an oven to have in an aging in place residence. It can be placed in multiple locations and accessible heights. They can also be aligned with the adjacent countertop, reducing the need to bend or lift. Have your wall oven mounted so that anyone can easily reach it. Make sure that it has a bright, large console with plenty of interior light make it easy to read.
Having a cooktop instead of a standard range is a safer choice for an aging in place residence. Cooktops cool off much faster than traditional ranges, and they also allow for an easier transition from the cooking space to the countertop. Cooktops can also be installed at variable heights to ensure the comfort of your resident whether sitting or standing.
One of the best features of modern microwave ovens is the ability to install it at eye level. Shop thoughtfully for a new microwave. Some are easier to reach than others, and many are set up for elderly people who are hard of hearing or visually impaired. These models will indicate that the cooking is done with a loud beep or other visual indicators. They will also give directions to residents, such as when the food needs to be stirred or reheated. The best microwaves will also have simple controls with large, easily read labels or captions. These should have obvious visual indicators and tones for common instructions.
If a hands-free faucet is not possible, a lever handled faucet mounted on the side of the countertop rather than from the back is another way to make a sink more convenient. Having a pullout sprayer is also advantageous, and since most modern sink layouts come with this anyway, it is an easy feature to add.
One of the most important features on a sink should be an anti-scald device. As stated before, there are many emergency room injuries that are caused by scalding water every year. This number is probably low, because many of these injuries go unreported.
Refrigerators & Freezers
Side-by-side refrigerator freezer units are usually the most accessible, because people can easily open both compartments. These units also have narrower doors, which reduces the probability of injury because of the lower swing radius. If you must choose a top mount refrigerator, make sure that the pullout sections/shelves are easy to access and that freezer storage is convenient.