Use Pullout features for pantry, cupboards and drawers.
Being able to pull shelves rather than reaching for items is better on joints for several reasons. The further away you must lift something up, the more strain it puts on your shoulders and back. If you need to reach outside of your normal stance (beyond your base of support as we say in rehab) it puts you at increased risk for falling. Having pull outs and/or a Lazy Susan not only allows you to see more items at a glance, but it also reduces your fall risk and protects your joints during your daily kitchen routines. I especially recommend pullout shelves to store heavy pots, pans and appliances.

Keep the sink, stove and dishwasher close to each other.
Although you want a workspace for prep between your stove and your sink, it’s much easier to carry pots with water to/from the sink when they’re closer together. Similarly, you want the dishwasher to be as close to the sink as possible for easy access. This also helps to prevent falls by decreasing the risk of water spilling on the floor when loading the dishwasher. Because skin gets thinner and dryer as we age, I recommend using a dishwasher and gloves for rinsing and washing dishes.

Place commonly used appliances, like the microwave, at shoulder height
Having to bend or reach to put things in and out of the microwave can be hard on your joints over time. It also can increase your risk of falls. In my last apartment, the microwave was at eye level for me, which meant I had to reach up to access it. This drove me crazy! Although I loved my beautifully painted plates, they often got hot during microwaving. Having to reach up while using a potholder to grab my plates nearly ended in me dropping them on multiple occasions. It was an awkward angle that annoyed me every time I had to heat something up. If you absolutely don’t have counter space, or the option to have the microwave at torso/shoulder level, place it below the counter. In rehab sciences, we utilize the rules of body mechanics to help people make movement patterns easier. It’s far easier to use your knees to help with lowering and lifting heavy plates if the microwave is located around thigh height.

Focus on open floor plans & maximizing space
Most kitchen layouts feature 36 inches of clearance for walkways. Although this can be fine in most situations, it can be a tight fit for persons using a wheelchair or walker. When it comes to clearance between walls and cabinets, more space is better. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends at least 60 inches of clearance between walls and opposing cabinets for U-shaped kitchens. When it comes to incorporating aspects of universal design into your kitchen, remember that it’s easier to plan accessible features before you actually need them. This can also improve the value of your home. Consult with an occupational therapist and contractor that can help you to maximize your space while enhancing accessibility (and your home value).

Soften the Edges but Make Sure Your Floor Has Some Grit
As I mentioned earlier, our skin thins and becomes drier as we age. Simply bumping a counter edge can turn into a cut. If you’re on blood thinners, bumps can turn into large multicolor bruises. Rounding the edges on countertops, islands and open shelves can reduce risk for small injuries from basic bumps around the kitchen. When it comes to the floor, avoid slippery materials and opt for something that has enough texture to it for some slip resistance. Floor tile with grout and texture can help your feet grip. Porcelain, for example, is easy to clean. Compared to ceramic, it’s also easier to maintain and absorbs less moisture. Vinyl can be a good option if you want more cushion in your flooring. It also comes in various slip resistance textures. If you’re considering staying in your home as you age, consulting with an occupational therapist that understands home safety and aging in place can be an invaluable tool for helping you to create a home that’s a supportive sanctuary over the years.

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