July 26, 2012

Cooking with your aging parent is a fantastic way to bond while discovering yummy new dishes. But while you're emulating your favorite TV cook, dangers such as fires, spills that can result in falls, and spoiled food can send your cooking reputation spiraling, especially if you're not there while an aging parent is cooking the bird.

Our mission is to keep seniors safely at home. Here’s how to prevent some common accidents in the kitchen and make the heart of the home a safer place for older adults.

Reducing the Risk of Burns

Anyone who cooks often knows that burns happen to all of us, no matter how careful we are. But the proper precautions can reduce the risk of this kitchen accident.

Make sure the kitchen is equipped with a working smoke detector and a fire extinguisher that your elderly loved ones know how to use. Look around the kitchen for flammable material. Move that stack of mail and papers to a different room. If there are kitchen curtains, or paper towels, make sure these potential kitchen hazards aren’t near the stove.

Finally, warn your elderly loved ones not to wear clothes with long, loose sleeves while cooking. We’ve all fried an egg in our bathrobes, but those dangling sleeves can easily catch on fire, especially if you have limited eyesight and reduced mobility.

Reducing the Risk of Falling

The risk of falling is greater for older adults, and falls may be even more likely to occur in the kitchen. It’s easy to spill a drink on the floor, creating a slippery surface. Washing dishes also may cause puddles that are easy to swim in. And seniors may get off balance by trying to stand on a chair to reach objects in high cabinets.

One of the best ways to prevent this kitchen accident is to place a large, non-slip mat in front of the sink. Seniors should also use a sturdy step stool (one with a handle is best) to reach high objects. Another simple reminder is to encourage proper footwear while cooking. Dragging around in bedroom slippers or flip flops without proper traction can not only be uncomfortable while standing for longer periods, but can also slip off your foot causing a trip even without water. We recommend closed toe footwear with proper ankle support that will absorb the impact of a falling pot or knife.

Improving Food Safety

The risk of eating undercooked or expired food can be a real danger among the senior population.

There are a few things you can do to make it easier for your elderly loved ones to cook their food properly and avoid this kitchen accident. Help them copy their recipes in a larger font to make them easier to read. You can also provide them with an egg timer to let them know when their food is cooked, to make sure they don’t forget about their meals and start a fire in the oven.

Elderly people can tend to stockpile food and then forget about it, or not finish it before it expires. Expired food can make them sick, a special risk to the elderly. Help your elderly loved ones go through their refrigerator and cabinets periodically to remove expired containers and cans. Limit stocking up on perishable food items that can't be frozen.

You may be worried that your elderly loved ones will be offended if you insinuate that they can no longer cook safely. One way to alleviate the sting is to give new gadgets such as fire extinguishers as gifts. Try saying, “I was picking one of these up for myself and thought you might need one too.” With a little subtlety, and a few precautions, you can help your elderly loved ones stay safer in the kitchen, giving you a little peace of mind.