“I kiss better than I cook.”~ Suzy Toronto
In my recently published book “Parkinson’s Diva: A woman’s Guide to Parkinson’s Disease,” I outline some strategies to make life easier while working in the kitchen for those of us who have chronic illnesses like PD.
We all experience ‘good days and bad days’ as my patients used to tell me. However, things can get down right tricky if you are the one not feeling well and everyone is looking at you for nourishment. There you are listless, barely able to control your tremors, dystonia, dyskenisias, tears, or whatever else Parkinson’s has in store for you that day. Now, you are supposed to do what? COOK! But, You can’t even bend down to get the right utensils or make it to the kitchen area.
So here are 10 strategies to make your life easier while making your kitchen functional and accessible without losing its charm.
- First, get rid of breakable dishes. Get plastic or durable-non-breakable dishes
You do not have to sacrifice style for practicality. Make sure that these dishes are both microwavable safe and dish washer safe. I have nearly replaced all my day to day dishware and cooking sets because got tired of flinging things around and spending more time cleaning then cooking!
- Second, make sure every one has special devices or gadgets to open jars, cans, and bottles as well as easily grip things. Get both that help with grip and also give you leverage to make turning easier. There are many grippers you can purchase cheaply. QVC had some nice practical ones that where also whimsical and came in variety of colors. Mine is polka doted blue! You might even want to mount one on the wall that allows for single hand use- However, have to consider position. Must be at waist level and near the edge of a wall so you can reach easily especially if using a wheelchair, scooter, or walker.
- Third, think about de-cluttering your kitchen space. Remove any non essential materials from counter tops as well as removing any furniture that is obstructing easy passage to and from kitchen area as well as around the kitchen to make maneuvering easier especially if using walking assisting devices or wheelchairs. Get rid of carpets which might cause you to trip. If possible get tile floors that have a little bit of shine for easy gliding but do not make them too sleek because I don’t want you falling. Also, make a design in the pathway to kitchen and around your work area that will visually stimulate your gait and avoid freezing. Do stripes, or checkers, or color gradation, and mark door ways with a clear transition by placing strips of different color and/ or material to prevent freezing as you transition from one room to another. I personally love natural wood floors.you can make beautiful designs with these as well. plus they are easier to traffic with walkers and canes. same can be done with other type of stones. You don’t have to break the bank in making these changes to your home and kitchen since there are now use expensive many less expensive materials to choose from like natural wood imitations that are just as beautiful. these alternatives could prove not just better for our pockets but easier to maintain. By using simple techniques or making small changes you dont only have a more functional, disease friendly space but also give your living space an air of elegance, sophistication and spaciousness. But, remember to keep your paths goal oriented as the one in the picture below leading to television, bathroom, bedroom ( use in most trafficked areas to avoid falls and other gait impediments).
- Fourth, once you have removed unwanted and unused objects from around the kitchen floors, cabinets and counter tops your newly decluttered kitchen area is guaranteed to make your life simpler. However, because all of us who have Parkinson’s disease and other physical disabilities have trouble bending and climbing due to the vertigo, dizziness, unsteadiness, along with stiffness caused by our disease we must be able to easily access our non-breakable cooking dishes, our condiments and other essentials for cooking. Therefore, we need to organize our working space as well as our cabinets so that everything we need is at eye and waist level; thus avoiding getting stuck on the ground or falling of a step stool. (I have all my condiments in a pull out drawer next to my stove). Also consider replacing all or a big portion of your cabinets with pull out shelves with dividers. This way you can see what you have and can store everything easily. I much prefer this to rotating shelves because those tend to get stuck plus are usually very small which reduces your storing capacity but also may make getting things out harder due to our loss of dexterity and fine motor control. On the other hand, the pull out shelves can be customized for what you need. they come in many sizes or shapes prefabricated or a good carpenter can install and customize further to your needs and specifications. I had this type of shelving installed in my office due to my chronic back problems. But, as my PD has progressed I am now implementing in my own home, since i have found myself storing all my cooking pots and pans along with other bowls and utensils in the middle shelves making it harder to get at without dropping and breaking things.
- Fifth, once you re make your kitchen floors, install right shelving, get appropriate dishes but cooking is still a challenge because you have a hard time standing to cook due to pain, leg cramps, weakness, and off balance issues. In order to bypass some of these issues consider getting a chair to use while cooking, especially if you are like me and have a stove top on an island (which I highly recommend gives you more room to maneuver). This should be something light that is easily moved and folded to be out of the way. The chair or stool should have arm rest and a back to make sitting and getting up easier. This will help to minimize fatigue while cooking as well as avoid falling especially if using canes and walkers because hard to cook while holding on to these..
- Sixth, I recommend a refrigerator with two doors. This way you can put things at eye level and not have to bend or simply may need to reorganize the shelving there as well.
- Seven, I find that I now have a hard time washing dishes- the scrubbing is not always as precise as I would like it to be. Therefore, a dishwasher may come in handy but make sure your dishes are safe to place there and that they FIT! ( as I discovered one Thanksgiving Day that my beautiful hand painted dishes would have to be done by hand because too big to fit into dishwasher). The realization took the glee right out of me of having had the pleasure of serving my guests in this fine china!
- Eighth, make sure that your sink has an extension hose making it easier to access the water and rinse dishes etc. especially if you have limited mobility and use walker, motorized vehicle and the like.
- Ninth, get a nice food processor and/ or blender to expedite things in the kitchen and help you chop, grate, and liquefy foods without causing injury to yourself. they also make boards which have a way of tethering it to the counter top as well as keeping whatever it is your cutting in place to to avoid cutting yourself, spilling things all over the counter and floor due to tremors and dystonia.
- Tenth, Don’t sweat the small stuff! Every Diva has to know her limitations. if cooking is NOT your thing or maneuvering around the kitchen proves to be nearly impossible consider alternatives- of course there is ALWAYS take -out! But, this can get tiresome and expensive. You can still prepare a home cooked meal and be the QUEEN of the castle without much work. I highly recommend every woman, person with PD or other chronic illness should own a nice crock pot! Mine of course is red!!!But along with this you must have at least one good cooking recipe book for crock pot. There are many out there. However, I especially love the collection by Debbie Thornton.