How to seniorize a kitchen

Published 3:00 pm Friday, June 25, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior

A while back you wrote a column on how to seniorize a bathroom to make it safer and easier to use. What about the kitchen? At 80, my mother still loves to cook, but has arthritis and some mobility challenges that make it difficult for her. What senior-friendly kitchen tips can you recommend?

Aching Cook

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Dear Aching,

The standing, bending, reaching, gripping and lifting that often comes with cooking, makes the kitchen one of the most challenging rooms in the house for seniors to use. Heres what you can do.

Small Modifications

There are lots of simple solutions and inexpensive add-ons that can make a big difference in making your moms kitchen safer and easier to maneuver. Consider these tips for the: &bsp;

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Cabinets: Start by reorganizing your moms kitchen cabinets so that the items she frequently uses are within comfortable reach. You can also make her cabinets and pantry easier to access by installing pull-out shelves or lazy susans, or for the hard-to-reach upper shelves, a pull-down shelving system (see D-shaped pull-handles for the cabinets and drawers are also recommended because theyre more comfortable for arthritic hands to grasp than knobs.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Lights: Aging eyes need more light, so install the highest wattage bulbs allowed in your moms fixtures, and to brighten up her kitchen countertops add task lighting under her cabinets.&bsp; &bsp;

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Faucet: If she has twist handles on the faucet, replace them with easy-to-turn lever handles, or replace the entire fixture with an ADA compliant faucet with a single lever handle, or the new Delta touch technology faucet. And for safety purposes, set your moms hot water tank at 120 degrees to prevent water burns.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Stove: If her vision is poor, clearly mark the controls on her stove or replace her dial controls with larger easier to read dials. And if memory is an issue, an automatic stove shut-off device (see, and is a smart solution.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Microwave: If your moms microwave is mounted above her stove, consider moving it to a countertop. It makes it safer and easier to reach. &bsp;

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Other areas: If she has kitchen throw rugs, to reduce the possibility of tripping, secure them to the floor with double-sided rug tape or replace them with non-skid floor mats. If standing for long periods causes her problems, get a kitchen stool so she can sit down while she works. And to help her arthritic hands, invest in some OXO Good Grip ( or other ergonomic kitchen utensils.

User-Friendly Appliances

If youre looking to buy your mom some new appliances, manufacturers like General Electric, Whirlpool, Bosch and Siemens make a variety of products designed with seniors in mind. Heres what to look for.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Refrigerator/freezer: Side-by-side doors work well for seniors because the frequently used items (refrigerated and frozen) can be placed at mid-shelf range for easy access. Pull-out adjustable height shelves and water/ice dispenser on the outside of door are also very convenient.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Dishwasher: Drawer designed dishwashers that slide in and out are very handy, and have it installed on a raised platform (6 to 10 inches) to eliminate bending over.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Stove or cooktop: Look for one with the controls at the front so your mom wont have to reach over hot burners to turn it off, and make sure the controls are easy to read and use. Flat surface burners or continuous grates on gas stoves are also great for sliding heavy pots and pans from one burner to the next. And ask about automatic shut off burners. &bsp;

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Oven: Self-cleaning ovens are a plus, and consider a side-swing door model. Theyre easier to get into because you dont have to lean over a hot swing-down door. Also consider a wall-mounted oven, installed at your moms preferred height to eliminate bending.

&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;Washer and dryer: Front-load washers and dryers with pedestals that raise the height 10 to 15 inches are back-savers and easy to access.

For more kitchen modifications tips see and

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.