Stove Safety: Helping a Person Cook

Many of you write to me requesting more information on stove safety. Usually it’s a scorched pot or two that raises an alarm.

It’s often challenging knowing whether it’s still safe for a person with dementia to cook on their own. A person’s abilities can fluctuate from day-to-day or even within a single day, making it difficult to know when and how to intervene. Often, trial and error is the only way to find out what will work best. Sometimes reminder signs and new cooking technologies can increase safety. Then, it’s all about observing the person as they cook  to see if the strategy is still working.

Sometimes reminder signs can help – for a while
In the early days of my mother’s dementia, she was afraid she was going to leave home and forget a pot cooking on the stove. So I made a large “CHECK THE STOVE” sign and placed it on the inside of the front door. For a while that strategy worked. Then she forgot a pot cooking on the stove while she was in the house and it frightened her enough that she stopped cooking.

It had become apparent that she could no longer live on her own. As we scrambled to find an alternative living situation for her, we (her adult children) took turns having meals with her. Shortly afterwards, we helped her move into an assisted living.

Sometimes safer cooking products can help – for a while

Auto turn off tea kettles. Bobbie, who had been diagnosed with dementia, no longer cooked her meals but still wanted to make a cup of tea. She knew, however, that she needed an appliance that would turn off automatically as she was afraid of starting a fire. A friend bought her an electric tea kettle and Bobbie marveled at its ease and safety (no gas flames, automatic turn-off). She was fortunate to be able to learn how to use it. Not everyone can. Some individuals may forget that the unit plugs in, and instead, place it on the burner! If your loved one is using one of these tea kettles, be sure to monitor its use over time.

Auto turn off stove devices. These devices are installed on existing gas or electric stoves for persons who want to cook but are forgetful. None of these are fail proof and they will not work for everyone, but in the right situation, they can be helpful. Jim, for example, wanted his wife to be safe at night while he was sleeping. So he installed a stove turn off device, as his wife was fond of heating up a cup of soup in the late night hours. He felt she was safe cooking by herself but wanted assurance that if she were to forget and leave the stove on, no one would get hurt.

Stove Turn Off Device
Photograph Courtesy of Cookstop

These devices turn off the stove if there is no movement in the room, whether the person is in the room or not (sometimes they fall asleep while cooking in the kitchen!). The devices come with a preset shut off time; some allow you to change the shut off time to suit your situation.

Jim set his turn off time to three minutes, allowing enough time for his wife to warm a cup of soup and still making sure that the stove would turn off if she left the room and forgot to return.

Can the person learn to do things a different way? All of these devices require the person to operate an appliance in a new or different way. For example, there are several different types of stove turn off devices on the market today and each one works a little differently. On one turn off device, for example, the person may have to push an “On” button before turning on the stove. This could be confusing or unworkable for a person with dementia.

Resources. I’ve written a short guide on what to look for when purchasing one of these devices. You can learn more about their features and which ones may be safer or more convenient for your needs and/or the person you care for.

What have you tried? Let’s share.

I'm an interior designer, gerontologist, author, blogger, and most importantly, a former caregiver to my mother, Arlene, who had Alzheimer's disease.
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5 Responses to Stove Safety: Helping a Person Cook

  1. Another feature which may serve multiple purposes is to have under cabinet sensor lights installed. These are fairly easy battery operated stick to mount. This can provide extra light for better visualization while preparing food, but also automatically come on as the person approaches the kitchen providing ambient illumination so that eyes can gradually adjust to lights coming on, as well as more easily help locate the light switch.
    I think that people are often intimidated by the thought of a major renovation so simple plug and play solutions are always welcome.

  2. Dianne says:

    I took your advice and bought an automatic turn off teakettle for my Aunt Hilda. It has made all the difference! No more burnt pots. I really enjoy reading your blogs. They are chock full of information that is very hard to find.

  3. Paula Wentz says:

    I cannot find the automatic shut off device for an electric stove. I need to purchase one as I have already caught my kitchen on fire by forgettung to turn off stove

    • Rosemary says:

      Hi Paula,

      I am really sorry to hear about your kitchen fire, it must have been frightening. You can read several shut off device product reviews on ThisCaringHome and see which one is best for your situation. And at some point, if the shut off devices are too complicated to use, you may want to try safer, alterative means of cooking, like using a microwave, if you are able, or a toaster oven with an automatic turn off.

      Warm wishes,
      Rosemary

  4. Suki says:

    I had the utility company come in and turn off the gas to the stove. Mom has an aide who cooks her meals in an electric skillet which is then put away in a safe place for the aide to then use again, the next day. Mom seems satisfied to have a good cooked meal prepared by the aide and snacks for her to eat in the evening. So far .. so good.

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