submitted by Catherine Pope, CAPS, Thomas G. Wells Construction, LLC, www.tgw-construction.com
It’s inevitable. Whenever I have a party at my house, everybody ends up in the kitchen. It is truly the heart of every home. Yet as we age, it can become increasingly difficult to use a kitchen. So here are some ideas from the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program.
Some are simple, and some will require major remodeling. We can start with the appliances.
Consider a drawer-style dishwasher that can be used by someone in a wheelchair. Or, consider mounting a conventional dishwasher 10 inches above the floor to minimize back strain.
Drawer-style refrigerators are also a good idea for improved accessibility.
The range should have controls located toward the front to reduce the chance of burns from reaching across burners. If young children will be in the house, you might not be able to do this.
Because we often have reduced sensitivity to heat as we age, it’s easy to get burned before you even know you’re in trouble. That’s why you might want to consider replacing your current cooktop with one that works by induction, a process in which heat is supplied only when a pot or pan is placed on the surface (this also solves the child problem). See Wikipedia for more details. If you have a pacemaker, be sure to consult your doctor before installing an induction range, due to the magnetic field it generates.
Do not mount your microwave above the stove. Consider mounting it below or just above the counter for safety when removing foods, particularly liquids. You might also consider one of the new drawer-style microwaves.
Ovens should be located near countertop height or just below with an adjacent “landing space” to safely transfer hot items to the countertop. You might also consider a double oven. The top unit minimizes bending, while the bottom unit can be used by someone in a wheelchair.
You’ll want to make sure that the surfaces of kitchen islands and countertops have a matte finish instead of a glossy surface. And, if you have a hard kitchen floor, consider installing a non-slip, anti-fatigue mat in front of the stove and sink. If your floors are slick, like stone or marble, consider applying an anti-slip treatment.
When selecting cabinets and remodeling, pay particular attention to contrast. Contrast between the floor and countertop is essential. Deterioration in eyesight and coordination change our automatic response as to where the countertop ends and the floor begins.
You can probably imagine how a white countertop and a white floor, a white countertop and white sink, or a black countertop and black cooktop could invite spills, burns, and general havoc.
You’ll find that drawers instead of shelves below the countertop offer greater accessibility. Still, if you’re set on using shelves, make sure they roll out.
Among the most important AIP modifications you can make is widening your door openings. A standard interior door measures from 28 to 32 inches. These widths do not meet the requirements of people who use a walker, wheelchair, rolling bed, or crutches. A person and someone to assist in walking cannot fit through a door less than 36 inches wide. Doorways must be widened to allow easy, safe, and free movement.
As Tom says, “Typically it is not hard to widen an opening, even when the header has to be replaced.”
A central goal of Aging-In-Place modifications is to enable you to live as normal a life as possible in your own home. This will benefit you and your guests for years to come.