Kitchen

This Help Sheet suggests some ways to make the kitchen as useful and safe as possible for a person with dementia, their family and carers. Not all suggestions will suit all people or situations, but some people may find a solution to a particular problem they are experiencing in the kitchen.

The aim of any changes to the kitchen is to promote safety and maintain skills and participation for as long as possible. Try to simplify the kitchen at the same time as keeping it as familiar as possible. Don't unnecessarily rearrange cupboards, bench tops or change the décor.

If the person can no longer participate in kitchen activities and if space allows, consider adding a comfortable chair so that they can sit near the carer while they work in the kitchen. This enables them to continue to experience the familiar kitchen activities, noises and smells.

What to try

Kettle and appliances

• If the person with dementia can no longer remember to turn off the kettle or electric jug, try a whistle on the kettle or buy an electric jug with an automatic cut off switch. Pop-up toasters, and 'auto cut off' cordless kettles and irons are safer. However, the person may not be able to learn how to use new appliances.

• When an appliance needs to be replaced, buy the same brand and model if at all possible to help the person retain their skill.

Tea and coffee making
• If a regular drinking cup is replaced with a mug or a different coloured cup, it may no longer be recognisable as a cup. If tea bags are no longer recognised, try loose tea and a teapot.

• Try putting all the tea things together somewhere visible - perhaps near the electric jug on the bench top. If possible, put an electric jug well away from the stove to discourage the person from putting an electric jug onto the stove. If it is no longer possible to use a kettle or jug, the person may recognise and use a thermos.

Stove/Cooker
Painted lines on stove knobs with green and red fluorescent paint or red nail polish can help to locate 'off' and 'on', and make it more obvious if the knob is not turned off. Put a note on the wall 'turn stove off' or write step-by-step instructions. If there is a possibility of leaving cooking oil on an unattended cooking top and causing a fire, consider taking away or locking up the cooking oil.

A timer can be installed for the whole stove and set for an average cooking time, after which time the hotpoint or oven will automatically switch off. It is also possible to set an upper time limit or maximum time for the stove to be on.

Ways to stop a person with dementia from using the stove include:-

• Knob covers
• A master cut-off switch for the stove in a discreet place, such as a high cupboard
• Removing the stove knobs
• As a last resort, disconnecting the stove completely

Recent models of gas cookers may have a safety feature called a flame failure device, which automatically cuts off the gas if it is not ignited. In older models, a wireless, gas detection, shut-off valve can be installed, which senses any accidental build-up of gas in the area and will automatically shut off the gas. The device sounds an alarm if gas is detected. Other possible safety features are a heat sensor above the stove and a smoke detector nearby to detect overheating or burning.

Contact Jersey Gas on 01534 755500. They will visit your home to give free advice on gas appliance safety. Also contact the Jersey Fire Service on 01534 445933. They give free advice on all aspects of fire safety.

• Remove matches, if necessary

These possibilities could be useful where the person with dementia lives alone or is alone during the day.

Microwave oven
• A microwave oven can be valuable for heating up food from the local meals-on-wheels service. Some people with dementia are able to use or learn to use a microwave oven if it has simple controls and if clear step-by-step instructions are provided. Make a sign about not using metal containers in the microwave.

Refrigerator
• Keep items in regular places in the fridge to make them easier to find. Remove concentrated foods and sauces and anything that can cause injury if taken. If remembering to close the fridge is a problem, prop it up slightly at the front to encourage the door to swing closed.

Cupboards
• Label cupboards and drawers if it helps the person to find and replace things. Gradually clear out the cupboards and reduce the number of each type of item, keeping just a few of the most commonly used things. If a person with dementia can no longer use the cupboards, try putting the most commonly used items on the worktop or an open shelf, or even take the doors off a couple of cupboards to create open shelving for better visibility and identification.

• Place commonly used items within easy reach to discourage climbing up to high cupboards. This is also useful if the person with dementia can no longer use the cupboard.

• Remove sauces, foodstuffs and alcohol that could cause harm if taken.

• If necessary, remove sharp knives, scissors and other sharp kitchen tools.

• Provide easy access to some cupboards and drawers full of safe non-essential items for rummaging.

Medicines and toxic products
• Medicines, cleaning products, solvents and pesticide products need to be locked away when a person with dementia is no longer able to read, recognise objects or distinguish such products from food and drink. Check that medicines have safety caps and discard out-of-date medicines. Keep emergency phone numbers near the telephone.

Did you know?

Unpaid carers supporting someone with dementia save the UK economy £6 billion a year.