Fires and the Elderly: An Overview
According to a joint 2006 report issued by the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Data Center, elderly people aged 65 and over are 2.5 times more likely to die in fires than the rest of the population. The study also indicated that a person’s chances of dying in a fire increases as they get older. Elderly people ages 85 and over are four times more likely to be involved in a fatal fire. In addition, elderly Americans are at an increased risk of sustaining injuries during a fire. In 2002, 14 percent of house fire injuries were among older adults; 34 percent of residential fire deaths were among people ages 65 and over. The most common causes of residential fire among the elderly are smoking, cooking and heating.
What are the Risk Factors that Elders Face?
Elderly people are at risk of being involved in fatal or injurious fires because they often have reduced physical senses to detect fires. For instance, hearing problems may prevent an elderly person from hearing a smoke alarm. Problems with smell may prevent an elderly person from smelling smoke from a fire. In addition, many elderly people have slow reaction times which can place them at risk for causing fires. Slow reaction times may also prevent elderly people from evacuating a residence during a fire. Moreover, neurological impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can increase the risk of an elderly person’s being injured or killed in a fire. Certain disabilities that prevent elderly people from performing daily tasks also place elders at risk.
Older Americans usually live on a fixed income and may not be able to afford costly modifications and repairs to their homes to prevent fires in their homes. Finally, some elderly people may have oxygen tanks or machines which are highly flammable and combustible and can result in serious explosions. Smoking around such devices only increases this danger. As a result of all of these factors, people ages 65 and over have a greater chance of being involved in fires that are fatal or injurious.
What Steps Can Elderly People Take to Prevent House Fires?
Older adults, however, can take several steps to prevent fires in their homes. Because smoking is the leading cause of deaths among elders involved in residential fires, older smokers should smoke outside, and they should never smoke in bed, especially if they’ve taken medications that make them drowsy. Elderly people should never smoke around oxygen devices. In addition, older adults should make sure that their homes have working smoke detectors on all levels of their home, including the bedroom. Elders with hearing problems can purchase special smoke alarms that flash bright lights or shake the bed during a fire. Such alarms provide older people with adequate time and warning to escape from a house fire.
Moreover, older adults should always remain in the kitchen when cooking. Elderly people should also inspect electrical cords for any cracks or damage, and they should hire a licensed electrician to inspect their home for any faulty wiring. Finally, elders should place space heaters at least three feet away from any items that can catch fire. They should also have their heating systems inspected on an annual basis. Such actions can help prevent elderly people from being involved in house fires that can be fatal or lead to severe injuries.