When a house fire occurs, every second counts. This is especially true for older adults who face twice the risk of being seriously or fatally harmed from smoke inhalation and flames. For the oldest generation, those over 85-years of age, the risks are even higher. Thirty-five percent of deaths caused by fires include this group of individuals.
If your loved one is a senior citizen, it is important to understand the steps you can take to lower their risks in the unlikely event that a house fire should occur. Taking proactive steps to prepare the home and your loved one is often the best course of action. Here are some ideas to consider as you make your family’s plan for safety and escape.
Alternatives to Traditional Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms are the number one safety device that every home must have. In many areas, they are required by building codes. They have been proven to warn individuals of a fire. This gives them time to move out of the house and harm’s way. However, for a senior citizen, a traditional smoke detector might not be enough. Many only emit sound. This is difficult for seniors to detect quickly if they are hard of hearing. Remember, in a fire, seconds count. Newer technology includes smoke detectors that flash lights, shake the bed or emit a frequency that triggers a wearable device or smart phone to vibrate. Some are also hooked up to monitoring stations. This ensures the fire department or someone else outside the home is alerted quickly.
Have Two Different Escape Routes
Every family needs a plan of action for getting out of the house if a fire breaks out. Discuss the plan in advance, and review it several times. Doing so ensures everyone knows where safe points of exit from every room are. Having a clear idea about where to meet once outside is also important. Include your senior loved one in these discussions. If they live on their own, develop and review a plan of escape with them.
Make sure there are two accessible exits from every room of the house. If the house is two-story, this might include adding escape ladders that are used to climb out a bedroom window. If your aging loved one has physical or cognitive limitations, plan for who will go to their room and assist them out to safety. Assign this task to at least two able-bodied adults. If one person cannot get to them, doing this provides for a backup plan.
In a fire, the electricity in the home almost certainly goes out. Smoke-filled hallways are often difficult to navigate. That increases stress and anxiety especially for a vulnerable senior. To make it easier to get out of the house, include escape route lighting in your home design. Motion sensor night lights that illuminate the path inside the house and solar or electric powered path lighting outside the home usually suffice. Just make sure the lighting clearly marks hallways both day and night. Also, check that it includes a non-electric power source so that it lights up even if the power is out.
Include Your Support Team
Many seniors have support in the home such as a professional in home caregiver or home care nurse. If these individuals are in the home on a regular basis, inform them of the escape plan or include them when planning. This individual can act as one of the responsible adults who help to get your senior loved one out of the home. They are often the first point of contact for the fire department or medics. It is important for them to know the safe escape paths from every room as well as the plan for where to meet once outside the home.
No one ever wants to experience a house fire. In the unlikely event that one should occur, it is important to prepare. Have a plan, know your exits and meeting point and make sure your senior loved one participates in planning and practicing an escape. Doing this just might save a life.
Salus Homecare San Gabriel Valley cares about seniors and their family members. We are happy to share important safety information that helps to keep you safe. If you have questions about in home care or in home health care for an aging loved one, give us a call anytime.