The Secret Life of the Refrigerator

The Secret Life of the Refrigerator

by Miriam Zucker, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM

“Ins and outs,” are what Aging Life Care Specialists™ often do during our initial walk thru a client’s home. The “ins” are such things as medication dispensers, grab bars and smoke detectors.  The “outs,” are unsecured throw rugs, old newspapers and magazines, and expired medications.  While these areas tend to be more apparent to the care manager, a visit to the kitchen may tell a story of mystery and concealment. It’s the secret life of the refrigerator.

Like opening your mouth in the dentist’s chair, opening the door of the refrigerator can reveal important information.

The first piece of information is obtained by simply opening the door of the adult senior’s refrigerator. Are you greeted by a fragrance-free refrigerator or is there the waft of soured milk?

The second piece of information is what is known as the “refrigerator rainbow effect.”  Ideally, this would mean an array of all those brightly colored fruits and vegetables. But for Aging Life Care Specialist, observing such color often represents mold and rot on foods that should have been thrown out long ago.

The third piece of information is opening the refrigerator, and none of the above characteristics are present.  There is little or nothing in the refrigerator and food in the freezer expired months or even a year ago.

For the Aging Life Care Specialist, the secrets of the refrigerator make it vibrantly clear that immediate attention is required.  Diagnosis and remediation must occur concomitantly. The refrigerator and freezer must be cleaned, expired food removed and fresh food and beverages brought in. At the same time, Aging Life Care Specialists must question why this unsafe condition has been allowed to develop. There are five primary questions we ask:

  • Are there family, neighbors, friends or social service agencies involved?
  • Is there altered cognition? Is the older adult forgetting to shop? Going shopping and not bringing money? Forgetting to eat?
  • Is the adult senior hoarding food? This often is observed with our clients who lived through the Great Depression and will not part with food no matter what its condition.
  • Is there clinical depression which is preventing a client from having an interest in eating or shopping?
  • What foods are our clients living on? What do the kitchen cabinets reveal?

For each of our clients, the response will be different. It is our responsibility as Aging Life Care Specialists to promptly assess what the refrigerator has revealed, and take the appropriate steps to return the refrigerator to a safe zone and make sure our clients are not malnourished, dehydrated or experiencing other conditions associated with improper nutrition.


MIRIAM ZUCKER, LMSW, ACSW, C-ASWCM is the founder of Directions in Aging, based in Westchester County, New York. she has been as an Aging Life Care Specialist for over two decades. she can be reached at:

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association® and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.