The kitchen is typically one of the rooms in which you spend large amounts of time, whether it be creating a meal for one, or inviting family and friends to join you. When adapting a kitchen for aging in place, it’s important for the kitchen to retain that significance, so that you may keep alive those relationships – and create more – while still securing your own comfort and safety.
We do at times take for granted our ability to navigate easily within our own kitchen. And, it is particularly difficult to accept that the kitchen – which is often the heart of the home – is also one of the most potentially hazardous rooms, dangers you may never have considered. But with proper planning those risks can be minimized and even eliminated altogether.
5 Issues To Consider When Adapting Your Kitchen For Aging In Place
Flooring throughout the house should be a primary concern when adapting your home, and the kitchen is certainly no exception. The kitchen, as you no doubt know and appreciate, has its own special considerations. Because spills are common and can be challenging at times to clean up, non-glare floor coverings are recommended to avoid missed spills and consequent falls. (Shining surfaces with glossy finishes reflect light that makes it difficult for anyone to avoid slipping on spills, regardless of age.)
Flooring materials such as vinyl, wood or linoleum flooring are sometimes the best options for aging in place residents, particularly if you or your loved one is confined to a wheelchair. Hardwood is also easier to roll a wheelchair across than tile or carpeting. If you do choose carpeting, however, low pile carpeting is easiest to maintain. If you instead choose tile, remember that the less distance you have between tiles, the lower the chances you might have of a slip and fall accident.
The trick to choosing your lighting plan is to find the optimal combination of ambient and artificial light to illuminate cheerfully but effectively the entirety of your kitchen by adding accent or task/track lighting in key places where necessary for you – under the cabinets, for example.
Light switches should either be accessibly placed in the kitchen – at arm’s length, near the entrance, etc. – and/or you may opt for an automatic light switch, which turns on as soon as a person enters the kitchen.
Recessed lights are another way to add illumination to a kitchen with a single light source. Depending on your budget, you may try increasing the wattage of the bulbs in your current fixtures. You may also consider switching to LED lighting, which gives off the same power for a fraction of the energy use of traditional incandescent lights.
Regardless of what you decide, remember that the colors and materials you choose for the surfaces of your kitchen will influence the effectiveness of your lighting decision. You should also think to highlight the edges of your countertops (and cabinets) with bright colors, but – like your flooring – the paint or surface material should not be shiny in order to avoid glare.
When it comes to countertops, not only could color-coding the edges stave off injuries, but some residents choose to also round their corners and edges. No matter what you decide, having the counters be a different color than the walls and cabinets can help to orient yourself when necessary. There should also be emergency “grab handles” within reach – either one long handle running the length of the countertop, or several smaller handles placed at intervals.
Just as is the case with flooring, keep in mind the maintenance of the materials you choose for your countertops and take into consideration the potential hazard of glare.
Obviously, you need to be able to access your cabinets easily. Typically, in a plan designed to help best serve an aging homeowner, this means lowering your cabinets by approximately three inches. You may also consider, for those higher cabinets, either a pullout step (lower cabinets) or a pull-down shelf, so that you don’t have useful storage space wasted. In evaluating your cabinets overall, however, replacing knobs with lever-style handles is generally the preferred alternative.
For lower cabinets, most find the pullout cabinet model to be the best option – particularly if you regularly need to access items in the back of the shelf. Again, this is a design aimed at optimizing your storage space. Lazy Susan cabinets allow even more access than pullout cabinets; unfortunately, their size can make it tricky to find ways to fit them into your remodeling plans. (Do remember to keep heavier, bulkier items in the lower shelves in order to avoid injury.)
5. Your “Work Triangle”
You use your oven, sink, and refrigerator frequently throughout the day, and often in conjunction with one another. That’s why having them placed as near to each other as possible is the best way to save time while you prepare, cook, and store your food, as well as when you’re cleaning up. Also try to keep your refrigerator interior at a similar – if not the same – level as your sink and oven, so you can easily transfer food from one area to the other.
ADAPTING YOUR KITCHEN AS YOU AGE
If you choose to remain in your home as you grow older, there are aspects of your kitchen that should consider when updating this most important part of your home. Prioritizing a budget while planning to best protect yourself and your loved ones can be difficult to do. Just remember though, proper planning is the best way to avoid this project from becoming overwhelming.
A good piece of advice if you are considering adapting your kitchen for aging in place is to discuss your renovations with a certified aging in place contractor. He or she is trained to walk you through the planning of your kitchen renovations and determine how best to make your vision a reality.