Editor’s note: Today’s post gives us a glimpse into the world of inventors who develop products to help individuals maintain their independence at home. I invited Canadian entrepreneur Alan Majer to share his experience with Joyous Paradox readers because I’m fascinated by the stories behind innovative products and services for elders and their families. I don’t have any financial interest in Majer’s company, Good Robot, so this isn’t a product review or endorsement. Your comments are welcome. Have you had trouble with charred pots on the stove? — MAB
“Do you have anything that could help out with the stove?” It was a question I’d been asked quite a few times after discussing some of the aging-in-place gadgets that Good Robot makes.
Now this was a bit of a surprise to me. After all, when we first surveyed caregivers, a lot of them said that having a home monitoring system that could collect data about their loved one’s stove usage was pretty low on their list. (This chart shows it as second-to-last in importance.)
My lesson on this one? Sometimes the stats don’t tell the whole story.
So I asked a few of my colleagues if they’d seen any similar reactions. Indeed, everyone else had, too. It was enough to convince us that we ought to investigate whether we could help.
We learned that stove safety is a huge concern. Cooking is the most common cause of residential fires, and leaving a stove unattended is the biggest culprit. We also learned that adults 85+ are at the highest risk of a fire death (4.5 times the norm). And while most of us know we shouldn’t leave a stove unattended, it’s easy to get distracted, even by answering the door or taking a phone call.
It’s no surprise why stoves are such a problem. If you look at all the things we own, they’re getting smarter – smart cars, smart phones. Yet most stoves are pretty dumb. On a typical stove, if you set the burner on high, it will keep on heating your food to the point of fire. An unwatched pot could burn your house down if you don’t take action to stop it. That’s really the opposite of safe.
So we tried to tackle the root of the problem: forgetting to turn off the stove.
The result is Stove Reminder™, a $99 gadget available at StoveReminder.com. This little unit raises a stove’s IQ. It automatically senses when the stove is in use, and chimes a periodic reminder to ensure you don’t forget and leave the stove on by mistake. Bringing people’s attention to the stove when they’re cooking can make a big difference. People become more aware of their stove usage too. One user said our unit helped them realize that they sometimes forget and leave the stove on minimum temperature at night.
Just as important is the link between cooking and independence. Think Grandma’s cookies, or the social aspects of cooking and sharing a meal. Dr. Sharon Cohen is a neurologist and director of the Toronto Memory Program, one of Canada’s largest facilities for the diagnosis and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Cohen highlights the important of maintaining individual autonomy and self-esteem as we age. “Stove Reminder is a vast improvement over traditional safety approaches which preclude stove use and prevent seniors from cooking for themselves,“ she says.
Last, in addition to Stove Reminder, here are some other kitchen safety tips that can help avoid kitchen fires:
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking.
- Keep flammable items away from the stove.
- Turn pot handles inward where they won’t get bumped by accident.
- Avoid loose sleeves or clothing.
- Use the back burners whenever possible.
- Keep your stove clean; grease or food residue may catch fire.
- Avoid alcohol consumption; remain alert when cooking.
— Alan Majer, CEO, Good Robot
For more on home safety, see Infographic on Alzheimer’s Disease and Home Safety.
For Alan Majer’s essay on caregiving in Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina, see The Courage of a Caregiver.
Image credits (from top): Portrait of an Old Woman, oil on canvas, 1611-1612. By Guido Reni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Caption added at memestache.com. Stove Reminder graphic from Good Robot, 2013.