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Dementia vs Kitchen: A Caregiver’s Nightmare
Frank Blood
/ Categories: Care, Organizing, Products, Safety

Dementia vs Kitchen: A Caregiver’s Nightmare

Is there any time of the year when your family enjoys the aromas coming from your kitchen more than at holiday time? The scents of favorite meals, warm bread, pastries and candy not only bring on anticipation but some of our fondest memories as well. Just thinking about it can make us slow down and smile. Yet, for sons and daughters of people with dementia, it could also bring on heightened levels of anxiety over mom’s safety.

It seems that no matter how old she gets; Grandma wants to cook her most-liked recipes for the family. Every year it gets a little more difficult for her, but just knowing the pleasure it gives her children and grandchildren more than makes up for the discomfort. However, because of the onset of dementia, she’s also lost some of her ability to use good judgment this year. The bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house but the kitchen is the scariest for caregivers of the elderly with rapidly diminishing cognitive ability.

Sharp knives, stoves and appliances aren’t the only hazards. Almost anything can cause harm to someone who isn’t paying attention or doesn’t have the capacity to foresee the consequences of their actions. Caregivers must scrutinize Grandma’s behavior in the kitchen whether she lives alone or with Grandpa. When it becomes apparent that she’s no longer able to prepare and store food without the risk of injury, it will be time to talk about transitioning to a place where she or they can be safe. Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do to set up a friendlier kitchen.


When Grandma Lives Alone or with Grandpa

Biggest Fear for Caregivers - Falls

  • If there are throw rugs, make sure they are secure
  • Consider mats by the sink or wherever spills are likely to occur
  • Move regularly used overhead cabinet and pantry items to eye level or lower
  • Make sure there are no tight places between furniture and cabinets


Keep Them Safe from Fire

  • Look for worn cords and plugs on appliances
  • Check that appliances are in good working condition
  • Use a product like Fire Avert to automatically shut off stove
  • Install an automatic shut-off safety outlet for appliances
  • Get a product like Cookstop to prevent unattended cooking fires


When Grandma Moves in with You

Dementia is a progressive condition so at some point Grandma won’t be able to live independently. Even if she still has Grandpa, unless he can be her caregiver day and night, she will need to be around someone who can help her with the things she can’t do. At this point, your options become more limited as you consider in-home care, moving her into a care community or having her move into your home. When Grandma is in your home you may need to modify your kitchen so that everyone is safe.

In addition to securing throw rugs, installing mats and making sure there is enough room between furniture and cabinets, you might need to:

  • Remove all knobs from the stove and oven or install a hidden gas shut-off valve or circuit breaker
  • Add safety locks on drawers containing junk or sharp knives and cabinets with medications
  • Use safety locks on doors to cleaning fluids, hazardous chemicals, poisons etc.
  • Limit water heater to 120 degrees
  • Turn off power to garbage disposal
  • Store small appliances and unplug larger ones
  • Watch for old or rotten foods in refrigerator
  • Secure a fully-charged fire extinguisher (away from the stove)


Remember that early and mid-stage dementia affects recent memory, but that memories from long ago are easily recalled. Because Grandma can remember how to fix many problems in the kitchen, you need to make certain that you make modifications in ways unfamiliar to her. While you are working on kitchen safety, you should also be giving serious consideration to the amount of supervision Grandma receives and whether other home modifications will be necessary soon.

Now that the kitchen is dementia-resistant, why not let Grandma enjoy doing what she did for you all your life? Why not let her cook and bake her favorite things? You’ll have to make them with her, but even if you only let her do the most minor of tasks, just being involved will bring back the special feelings that meant so much to her. There isn’t any reason she should have to give those up and you will be sharing something very special with her.

For a whole-house safety booklet, download Home Safety for People with Alzheimer’s Disease by the National Institute on Aging.

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Mike Sirot.




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