Cooking is advantageous for seniors, even those with dementia, in a variety of ways. It provides an exciting hobby that helps keep them mentally active as well as the opportunity to bond with their loved ones while simultaneously whipping up delicious food that benefits their health.
Cooking can be an inherently dangerous activity for anyone, but for seniors, especially those with dementia, it becomes even more pronounced. Age-related changes affect the senses and reduce mobility while cognitive changes related to dementia simply add to the danger.
Cooking poses several risks to the health and well-being of seniors, particularly those with dementia, which is why it is so important to do everything possible to ensure their safety while cooking.
Here are 12 effective ways to do exactly that.
1. Assess the Situation
The first step to ensure the overall kitchen safety of seniors with dementia is for family members and caregivers to assess the situation. Family members and caregivers alike should consider whether or not the person is really safe cooking for himself/herself. Can they safely cook for themselves or should the stove be unplugged altogether? The simplest solution sometimes is telling the individual that the oven is broken.
2. Label Control Buttons and Switches
Labeling and using reminder signs as much as possible can be an excellent idea especially for people whose dementia isn’t advanced since it helps the person know what switches are used for what items. If the original lettering/numbers have faded over time, it can be a good idea to label the control buttons or knobs on the oven or stove.
The ‘off’ position should be marked in red and it is always advisable to use large-sized text and simple language while labeling.
The labels and reminders used should be placed in direct view of the person and depending on his/her habits, the labels and reminder signs should be placed where the person would most likely need it.
Labels and reminder signs can be very helpful especially for individuals in the early stages of dementia. Still, supervision might be necessary, particularly in the later stages of the disease.
Family members and caregivers should be aware that reminder signs and labels will no longer be effective at some point in the disease, which is why other interventions are often necessary.
3. Provide Ample Lighting
The kitchen where people with dementia will be preparing meals should ideally have sufficient lighting, particularly next to the stove to ensure that they don’t trip, spill hot foods on themselves or even add wrong ingredients to recipes. Having ample lighting essentially ensures the safety of seniors with dementia while cooking by eliminating most safety hazards.
4. Get Rid of Kitchen Rugs
Kitchen rugs and thick cushy kitchen mats pose a serious fall risk especially in areas where the floors underneath may be slippery, such as in a kitchen. People with dementia usually have an unsteady gait as the disease progresses.
Instead of using kitchen rugs, seniors with dementia should put nonslip mats in front of the oven and below the sink, which are the areas where slips are most likely to occur.
5. Wear Proper Clothing
People with dementia should avoid wearing loose clothing that has flowing sleeves while cooking. House dresses, robes, and other garments that may be comfortable for seniors usually have extra loose sleeves that may potentially ignite if they ever get too close to a hot burner. Comfortable clothing with either tight-fitting or short sleeves is generally more preferable.
6. Install Proper Safety Equipment
It is important to ensure that there’s a working smoke detector in the kitchen, which should be tested and dusted every month and whose batteries should be changed at least once every year. It can also be a good idea to have a small fire extinguisher on hand and ensure that the senior knows how to use it should the need to do so ever arise.
7. Automatic Fire Extinguishers
It is advisable to install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and ensure that the senior knows how to use it, but the reality is that standard fire extinguishers are notoriously difficult for anybody to use, particularly individuals with dementia.
Fortunately, today there are fire extinguishers available that dispense automatically to put out fires. The automatic fire extinguisher is essentially a fire extinguisher in 2 small cans that attaches under the vent hood via magnets.
8. Switch Dishes for Non-Breakable Ones
It is inevitable that cups, bowls, cups, etc. will end up getting dropped in the kitchen while cooking and this may pose a safety hazard. That’s why it is advisable to try and replace such with non-breakable versions. Today, patterned plastic dishes are available in plenty and these won’t smash if dropped thus potentially causing injuries and are much lighter for the individual to pick up and carry.
9. Monitor Burns from Hot Water
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can reduce a person’s sensitivity to pain. The person might not realize how bad the burn is. The water heater should be checked to ensure that the temperature is not set too high. Having a kitchen faucet where hot and cold water are combined into one can be quite helpful since it makes it much easier to adjust the water temperature.
10. Cooking Timers
One of the greatest problems faced by seniors with dementia is forgetting that food is cooking on the stove. In the early stages of dementia, some people can use a kitchen timer to help keep their cooking on track. However, it may be helpful to put up a sign or gently remind the person to set the timer. The most effective timer is one with large, easy-to-read numerals and an incredibly loud ring will be most effective.
11. Switch Stoves for Microwaves
Seniors with dementia often find a microwave ovens an excellent alternative to using a stove, even those that haven’t used a microwave before. Once they learn how to use the microwave, they will often prefer it to the stove or oven.
Family members or caregivers can prepare frozen dinners that the senior can heat up and are incredibly convenient. Today, there are simple microwaves for seniors being manufactured that have just a few buttons to use. Labels can be used to help the senior use the microwave safely.
Family members and caregivers should review microwave use guidelines, which include never heating sealed objects, never using metal containers or aluminum foil in the microwave, as well as being careful when taking containers out of the microwave because they might be very hot.
12. Tape Down Cords
Socket placement in kitchens means that cords from toasters, electric kettles, microwaves, etc. can be seen, but it is important to ensure that they are securely taped down to prevent any accidents, especially since seniors with dementia are involved.
The cord should also be kept away from oven burners and sinks and family members and caregivers alike should ensure that there aren’t any cords dangling over counter edges or across floors thus causing a potential trip hazard.
Seniors do not have to give up their passion for cooking simply because they have lost some mobility or mental capacity. The important thing is to ensure that they are provided with a safe environment to cook in.
Dementia is a progressive disease, which means that cooking, kitchen work, and other aspects of living have to change with it. The 12 tips provided here will be effective, but additional safety controls and supervision will become necessary with time.
If you are dealing with fidgeting behavior too, I have a list of things for dementia patients to do with their hands that might give you some more ideas.
Family members and caregivers should remember that distraction and re-direction might become necessary whenever the person with dementia wants to cook but has a limited ability to do so in a safe way may eventually be the only defense available.
Do you have other cooking tips for seniors with dementia or advice to share? Please tell me about it in the comments below!