Home safety is an important issue for the elderly, and the kitchen is one area where accidents are common.
According to Age Safe America, people aged between 65 and 74 are almost twice as likely to die in a fire, and the risk continues to increase as people get older, with those over 85 almost five times more likely to die in a fire.
Cooking is the third leading cause of fire deaths, and the leading cause of injury for seniors.
Gas Stove Safety for the Elderly
For seniors who have a gas stove, here are some safety tips you should consider implementing.
1. Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Every year, around 430 people in the USA die of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Installing a carbon monoxide detector that sounds an audible alarm (rather than simply having a sensor that changes color) can offer an early warning so that seniors can vacate the property and seek professional medical advice in the event of CO exposure.
2. Install an Auto Gas Shutoff Valve
In the event of a fire, it is important the gas to the stove be shut-off quickly. FireAvert is a stove safety function device that automatically shuts off the gas when it senses a smoke detector in the home goes off.
3. Invest in a Fire Extinguisher
Gas and electric stoves both present a fire risk. Every kitchen should have a fire extinguisher, at a minimum, and ideally a fire blanket too. If either of these are used, they should be replaced immediately.
4. Fit Safety Knob Covers on Gas Stoves
One common problem that seniors face is accidentally turning on the burners on their stoves. This may happen if they tend to lean on the stove when operating over appliances, or when reaching over the stove to use one of the rear burners.
Since it isn’t immediately obvious that a gas burner is on if it’s unlit, they may not notice what they have done. Some seniors have a poor sense of smell and may not be aware of the gas being discharged into the kitchen and the potential explosion risk that comes with it.
Fitting stove knob locks over the front of the knobs can stop them from being turned accidentally. These covers allow seniors to operate the stove when they want to, but mean that the stove won’t get turned on by accident.
5. No Loose Fitting Clothing
Be careful what clothing is being worn when cooking with a gas stove. Long flowing sleeves like those on gowns or robes could come in contact with the flames and get set on fire. Wear closer fitting clothing with tight sleeves – or, even better – short sleeves.
Electric Stove Safety for the Elderly
Even though electric stoves are generally though to be safer than gas stoves, you should take the following steps to improve electric stove safety for seniors.
1. Install a Stove Shut-Off Device
Burnt food is something that can happen to anyone. Get extra peace of mind that a lapse in attention or misjudged cooking time is not going to end in disaster by using an auto shut-off device such as FireAvert that will turn off the stove when the smoke alarm sounds.
2. Use Good Oven Mitts
Burns and scalding accidents are common in the kitchen if a senior attempts to handle a pan that is hot to the touch, or take a hot tray out of the oven. Investing in high quality, easy to use oven mitts that have a ‘thumb’ to allow for a proper grip can help to reduce the risk of accidents in the kitchen.
3. Choose Induction Burners When Buying a New Stove
Induction burners are a good choice for the elderly because they are far safer than other burner types. Induction burner work only with compatible pans. They use magnetic energy to heat up the pan. The burner itself does not get hot. This means you can forget that the burner is switched on and not have to worry about it overheating. You can even touch the induction burner itself and not get burned.
Yes, if you walk away from a burner that has a pan of liquid on it, the liquid will eventually boil dry, but the ‘damage’ that can be caused by induction burners is limited compared to the risk posed by leaving a gas cooker or even a standard electric burner on for a long time.
4. Use Audible Timers
If you know that you tend to be forgetful or easily distracted, get into the habit of setting timers when you’re cooking. Use kitchen timers to help you keep track of when food is ready. Dedicated audible timers that ring loudly are best, and are more likely to get used (and noticed) than something that you would have to set on your phone.
Making the Kitchen a Safer Place
Most seniors would prefer to stay in their own home as they get older, and retain their independence when it comes to cooking and other tasks. Some small changes and precautions can make the kitchen a much safer place for seniors:
Here are some other simple things that you can do to make your stove, and the kitchen in general, safer:
- Make sure that the kitchen floor is clean, tidy and free of obstructions
- Use bright lighting so that you can see food clearly, and read the numbers on the stove
- Keep the sink and draining area clean and tidy so that there is less risk of broken dishes or other accidents
- Get rid of the frying pan and cook foods in other ways instead of deep fat frying. Other cooking methods are both safer and healthier!
- Use utensils and lightweight cookware with robust ergonomic grips to reduce the risk of accidents
- Keep pets out of the kitchen
- Where corded kitchen appliances are used, organize the cords so they don’t hang over the counter
- Keep cleaning fluids and other potentially ‘dangerous’ substances separate from foods to reduce contamination risk, and the risk of other absent-minded accidents
- Clean the oven and grill regularly, as fat and food spills can be a fire hazard
Keep your kitchen clean and tidy, and you should find that it remains a safe and pleasant place where you or your loved ones can enjoy cooking their favorite dishes.
For many seniors, cooking is an escape or a form of relaxation, and losing the ability to bake for their family or just feed themselves in general is a crippling blow because it makes them feel less independent. Taking proactive steps to allow seniors to stay “in charge” in the kitchen helps maintain their mental well-being and may make the difference between allowing them to ‘age in place’, or having the need to move them in to an assisted living facility where day-to-day tasks are managed for them.