Kitchen of the Future: “Aging in place” – It’s much more than adding a grab bar!
The Kitchen Guy was asked more and more to design functional but also adapted kitchens for aging customers and so I was delighted to be contacted by Carolina from Aginginplace.org who thought their recent article on remodeling kitchens for an aging population would be interesting content for our readers. I’ve summarized key points below and you can read the full article at Kitchen Of The Future: Remodeling For Comfortable Aging In Place.
If the 2010 US census trends continue, the US senior population over 65 will double from 37M to 71.5M in the next few years. Here in Canada the numbers from the 2016 census show that the population over 65 was 6M and this number is also expected to double to over 12M in the next 15 years. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) 87% of seniors want to “age in place” and live in their homes, instead of moving into retirement communities, nursing homes, or assisted living facilities with 70% of 50-64 year olds wanting this type of lifestyle as well. Canadian seniors are no different and want to preserve their sense of independence and ownership well into their golden years.
With advances in technology, Builders and renovators can use the principles outlined in the article to create kitchens of the future for our aging population. “Aging in place” is actually an official term and is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.”
When considering a remodelling project with “Aging in place” in mind we naturally think of the kitchen as the first place to start. It is by far the highest traffic area in the home and one with several challenges when it comes to adapting the space. Here are the main considerations to keep in mind:
“Aging in place” Kitchen cabinets should be easy to reach and installed 3 inches lower than a typical cabinet installation. Including a pull-out step around the perimeter of the floor and adding pull down shelves in the upper cabinets avoids having to overreach to access what they need.
Lower cabinets should mostly have drawers and at least pull-out shelves to reduce back strain. Also make sure items and products that are used often be stored in the lower cabinets.
Functional and accessible accessories such as Lazy Susans, corner pull-outs, recycling/garbage drawers and condiment spice drawers all contribute to better accessibility and reducing strains and possible injuries.
When considering countertops, accessibility and safety should be your main considerations. Multilevel countertops will allow everyone to reach the countertop that is most convenient at any given time. Countertops on islands for example could have a section at 36” in height matching the other countertops and a section at 30” which is at table height and would allow seating in a chair or even in a wheelchair.
Aim for rounded edges and corners on countertops and choose a material with minimal maintenance that is durable and easy to clean. Quartz countertops are the most popular choice in Canada for durability and limited maintenance.
The Work Triangle: Oven, Sink, Fridge
The oven, sink and refrigerator should be as close as possible to each other since they are the most used appliances in your kitchen and form the hubs of your work triangle. This will avoid wasted time during prep, cooking and cleaning.
The main consideration for flooring is avoiding slips and falls. A non slip ceramic or luxury vinyl tile or hardwood are your best choices. They are also easy to clean. Easy to clean means less slips and falls. Avoid carpet at all costs. They are difficult to clean and not ideal for wheelchairs.
The kitchen should be on the main floor where we spend a good portion of our time.
Aging means that at some point there will be mobility issues. Smart kitchen design ensures that if and when the time comes a wheelchair is required then you have peace of mind that the kitchen will function as planned. Clearance around cabinets and island should be 42”-46” and doorways leading to the kitchen should be at least 36” wide.
Hazards in the Kitchen
The Kitchen is a room where we spend considerable time and is also one of the more dangerous spaces in the home.
Here are a few reasons to prioritize a reorganisation of the kitchen for an older person:
- After age 65, falling becomes the leading cause of death in the home, with many slip-and-fall accidents occurring on wet kitchen floors.”
- Lacerations from kitchen tools account for 42% of hand injuries that are seen by ER professionals.
- A home without a fire alarm is twice as likely to have a fire, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
- Unattended cooking equipment accounted for 45% of home fatalities from 2002 to 2005.
- 34 fatal burn injuries occur each year from scald burns in the kitchen.
Appropriate lighting in your kitchen lowers the risk of accidents and eye-strain. Aim for a mix of sunlight and artificial lighting. Under-cabinet lighting is ideal for counter work spaces. Make sure light switches are easy to use and conveniently placed at kitchen entrances. Also consider automatic motion detection switches that turn on automatically when someone enters the kitchen.
Heating & Cooling
Activity in the kitchen can increase heat considerably regardless of the temperature in the rest of the home. Make sure to have an easily accessible thermostat in the kitchen to adjust temperature accordingly.
Oven and burners
Wall ovens are the ideal choice for an “aging in place” residence since they can be adjusted to the best height for access without bending or lifting. Placing the oven at countertop height or installing a pull-out counter directly underneath the oven will reduce potential accidents when setting down hot dishes.
A cooktop with front mounted controls is a better choice than a standard range since it cools off more quickly, provides an easier transition from the cooking space to the countertop and they can be installed at variable heights for use while standing or sitting.
Sink and faucets
Main considerations for sink are height and depth. Sink depth of 6 inches is ideal to avoid bending over and back strain from reaching in too far for the drain.
Adjustable height countertops are possible but make sure to make space below the sink to allow for wheelchair access.
Faucet should be hands-free if possible and if not then lever-handled. A pull-out sprayer is always useful. An anti-scald device is very useful as one of the most frequent kitchen accidents is scalding water injuries.
Having a soap dispensary and water filter (if applicable) with easy access makes life in the kitchen more comfortable and reduces risk of accidents.
Refrigerator and freezer
Here are the ideal elements of a “aging in place” refrigerator:
- Long handles that allow a grip
- Storage in the doors
- Proper lighting
- Side by side fridge and freezer for easy access
- Slide out shelves
Installing the microwave at eye level is best for access. It is important to select a m/w with clear/simple instructions/directions and visual indicators as well as loud sound/beep. Under-counter microwave drawers are best for safety and accessibility.
Dishwashers help reduce clutter and risk of injury from breaking dish ware. They should be installed at an accessible height and drawers positioned to avoid tripping when opened.
Choose a pop-up toaster and not the small “reach-in” toaster ovens and make sure visual indicators are large and easy to read.
A Word on Kitchen Appliances
Select appliances with automatic shut-off options when possible. Unattended cooking appliances are one of the top causes of accidents in the kitchen.
If possible switch to hard plastic dishes to avoid broken dishware and possible injury. If you keep stainless steel silverware make sure the knives are sharp. Injuries occur most frequently from dull knives.
Medical alert device
These devices allow an aging in place resident to quickly notify medical personnel in the event of an accident or injury. They should be installed in the kitchen and throughout the house.
Smoke and monoxide detectors
These devices should be easily accessible and placed in the kitchen and throughout the house.
There should be an up-to-date fire extinguisher in every kitchen
If you don’t use a mobile phone, a cordless phone at arm’s length is the option.
Make sure your outlets and their capacity match the appliances being used. An certified electrician will ensure everything is to code.
Helpful kitchen items
Here are a few very helpful tools for an aging in place kitchen:
- A cabinet integrated or wall mounted step stool
- Jar openers
- Adapted “universal design” or “user-centered design” utensils
Only 20% of people considering an aging in place remodeling or renovation prioritize the kitchen. This is a very low number considering the importance and time spent in the kitchen and the fact that the kitchen is one of the more dangerous rooms in the house. A true and safe “aging in place” remodel will always prioritize the kitchen.
It’s more than adding a grab bar here and there.
“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.
Please let us know your thoughts on kitchens of the future for “aging in place”. We’re available to answer your questions and also to help you to create the adapted kitchen of your dreams! Feel free to reach out and get a free kitchen renovation estimate!