Dementia Care: Kitchen Safety Tips

Dangers lurk everywhere in the kitchen for the dementia patient. It's the repository of sharp knives, glassware, electrical devices, detergents and cleansers, and hot pots, pans, and stoves.

Here are some typical scenarios of kitchen accidents in the making:

It’s 15 minutes before dinner and your loved one is helping out with meal preparation. There are pans with water and sauces bubbling on the burners, and a chicken in the oven broiler. You go out quickly to walk the dog in the neighborhood, leaving the person alone in the kitchen for a short time. Reaching over to stir a pot on the back of the stove, her long billowing shirt sleeve passes through the lit burner on the front of the stove and catches fire.

Hearing the oven bell go off, signaling that the chicken is finished cooking in the broiler, your loved one opens the oven door, pulls out the hot pan with the chicken, and tips it accidentally, scalding herself with hot grease that has poured down over her chest and legs.

Seeing that the sauce is still bubbling on the stove, your loved one grabs a small bottle of dishwashing detergent and squirts some into the sauce, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. For extra measure, she dumps in the remaining prescription pills from a bottle on the kitchen counter.

Wanting to boil a pot of water, the person with dementia turns on the burner. When the burner doesn’t light, she keeps turning the knob. Not getting the burner to ignite, she leaves the room in frustration as the escaping gas fills the kitchen.

Needing additional plates, your loved one pulls the step stool over and climbs up to reach them. After losing her balance, she tumbles onto the floor and breaks her hip.

Supervision is key

A cognitively impaired person should not be left alone in the kitchen. It’s potentially a dangerous enough place even for someone with all of his or her faculties.

To ensure maximum kitchen safety for a person with dementia, always stay in the kitchen when anything is cooking on the stove. If you use matches to light your stove burners, make sure they are kept in a place where the care recipient cannot gain access.

In addition, be sure that you have a lightweight fire extinguisher that you know how to use in case of emergency. Make sure it has an ABC rating, which means it can handle wood, paper, plastic, flammable liquid, and electrical fires. Keep it stored 10 feet from the stove and check it regularly to make sure it is still charged.

You need to supervise anytime the stove is going to be used. If you can't be there, be sure to remove all control switch knobs from the stove so the care recipient cannot turn it on himself or herself.

In lieu of that, take the fuses out of the stove or turn off the gas leading into the stove. If you have real concerns that problems may still occur because of the gas-fueled stove, consider purchasing an electric stove.

Hot water can scald, so prevent any hot water burns by turning your water heater temperature down to 120° F. This way the water won’t ever get hot enough to cause injury. Be sure to keep all hot drinks away from the edges of tables and counters, where they can easily be bumped and knocked over.

It’s easy to get poisoned from ingesting everyday items. Therefore, keep all detergents and other cleaning products in the kitchen (and elsewhere) away from care recipients. Lock them away if necessary. In addition to having emergency numbers by every phone in the house, be sure to include the National Poison Control Hotline number: 800-222-1222.

Most of the time, knives are not a problem. But if a patient has problems with agitation or aggression, you'll need to move the knives so they are not accessible. A locked cabinet or kitchen cupboard with a safety latch on it is a good idea. It may also be a good idea to remove all kitchen sink stoppers to avoid the chance of a water-overflow accident.

Lock the fridge

Don’t forget: With dementia, just about anything is possible, including unwittingly eating and drinking dangerous items. Eating inappropriate items can easily lead to sickness (or death) and an open refrigerator is often an invitation to drink and eat whatever is found there, including such things as medicine, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, pickle juice, and raw meat, eggs, poultry, and fish.

To keep this from happening, you can add a childproof lock on the top of the refrigerator door where it remains out of sight. Some people also choose to camouflage the refrigerator door with easy-to-attach panels that make the front of the refrigerator look like a cabinet.

Also, since people with dementia often like to hide things, be sure to always check the space below your stove burners for items that may have been hidden there. And before warming up the oven for cooking, check inside first. If the oven becomes a regular hiding spot for your care recipient, consider installing a childproof lock on the oven door.

Finally, if you have a garbage disposal in your sink, add a sink mat to conceal it. If your care recipient finds that the garbage disposal is still irresistible for hiding items, unplug or disconnect it to eliminate any possibility that it will get jammed with jewelry or other small items that might get hidden in it.