Whenever possible, it’s better to use safety products that allow independent or supervised use of kitchen appliances. However, at times you will need to make the stove off-limits. If the person is leaving food unattended on the stove or storing flammables like newspapers on top of or in the stove, it’s safer if you limit access.
Similarly, due to memory and judgment problems, the person may attempt to cook with unsafe materials, such as a plastic microwave container on top of a stovetop burner. Then, too, the person may have lost the ability to housekeep, and greasy stovetops can catch on fire. Leaving the gas on is another common, worrisome problem.
In this section, we’ll show you several ways to limit access to the stove. Not all solutions will work for all stoves or all people, so we suggest you try a few of our suggestions to see which work best for your care receiver.
Keep in mind that limiting stove access for someone who is used to cooking may trigger agitation. Having alternative activities may help redirect the person’s energies and reduce potential negative reactions.
Remove knobs and store them in a safe place. Some caregivers put a sign over the stems, such as “Stove Not Working,” to help reduce the person’s agitation when the knobs are missing.
Keep in mind that this intervention will work for some and not others, depending on the person’s ability and background. Even with the knobs removed, the stove can still be turned on by turning the stem. We’ve known individuals to find a pair of pliers in a toolbox or to just use their hands to turn the stem shaft.
Removing the pots and pans and tea kettle may help the person forget about cooking, especially if they are in the advanced stages of dementia – for some, if they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
Use Knob Covers
These clear plastic “bubbles” cover the existing stove dials. If the knob cover is turned, a person is supposedly only able to “spin” the plastic cover but not able to turn the stove knob underneath.
This product must be used with caution. It is designed for children, not adults. With a bit of strength, the knob can easily be pulled off. And on one older stove that we tested, the plastic cover accidentally turned the stove on when forcefully turned! So be sure that the stove knobs cannot be turned on when using these covers.
Use Burner Covers
For certain individuals, burner covers that disguise cooking elements may effectively discourage stovetop usage. For some, if they can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.
If you try this intervention, make sure to remove the stove knobs. Toxic smoke and fire can occur if the stovetop is turned on when using these covers.
Burner covers are available in a variety of patterns and materials. Please see product information for more details.
Lock the Oven/Stove
Most new stoves include an oven lock feature as standard equipment that locks the oven door and disables the oven controls. Some new stoves, both gas, and electric, have an optional feature, for an additional cost, which also locks the range top.
Built-in cooktops are also available with a lockout feature. For example, some gas models have a separate knob that turns the gas on and off that goes to the all the burners.
If neither of the above options is available, you can use oven “locks” developed for child safety. These are not really locks, but rather devices that open and close by pressing and squeezing the interlocking parts.
Keep in mind that care receivers may become confused or agitated, especially at the beginning, when they cannot use the stove. You’ll want to provide more supervision and be sure to have alternative activities for the person to engage in.
If you’re only worried about the person using the stove at certain times of the day when you aren’t there or you’re asleep, you may want to temporarily turn off the stove’s power. Depending on the type of electrical system you have, either turn the switch off at the main circuit breaker panel or remove the fuse from the fuse box.
This intervention will not work or will not be safe to use if:
- The fuse or switch also controls other kitchen appliances, such as the refrigerator.
- The controls are located in high fall-risk areas (e.g., basements with steep stairs or upper cabinets that can only be reached by using a ladder).
If you try this intervention, have a reminder sign so you won’t forget to turn off the stove’s power. Also, you might want to tactfully put a sign near the stove that says “Stove Not Working” so the care receiver doesn’t become upset when the stove doesn’t work.
Install Remote On/Off Switch/Circuit Breaker
For an electric stove, you can hire an electrician to install a separate on/off switch hidden in a nearby kitchen cabinet. With this safety intervention, stove knobs turned to the on position will no longer supply power to the burners or the oven. The remote switch must be first turned on for the stove knobs to work.
For extra safety, install a lock on either the cabinet or the switch circuit breaker box. Depending on how much wiring has to be done, it will cost around $300-400.
Making any changes to the home environment can upset persons with dementia, especially when they are denied denying access to a familiar household item like the stove. So make sure that you or someone the person knows is there to help redirect the person’s attention away from cooking activity, especially when you first install the switch.
Turning the Gas Off – Daily Basis
Many safety guides recommend turning off the gas valve when you want to temporarily limit access to the stove. This advice is questionable and some utility companies advise against it, citing old, unsafe gas valves and pipes and the risk of a gas leak.
In addition, the gas valve is located on the pipe behind the stove, making it difficult or impossible to reach. Some caregivers actually relocate the piping and install a shut-off valve in a cabinet. It may be safer, easier, and less expensive to use other interventions listed on this website.
If you are seriously considering using this intervention, we advise you to talk to a plumber and to your local gas company and to make sure there is a combustible gas detector in your care receiver’s home.
Turning the Gas Off Permanently
Some individuals are at high risk for fire and burn injuries, especially if they are living alone or left alone for long periods of time. If there have been recent fires or you notice unsafe cooking signs, such as scorched pans or dishtowels, it’s time to take action and turn off the gas.
Evaluate if the person can safely use a toaster oven or a microwave instead. If he or she is not familiar with these appliances, they probably won’t be able to learn. You’ll need to arrange for Meals on Wheels or other similar services.
At this stage, more caregiver supervision is needed, and it may not be safe for the individual to be alone.