Older adults, or those 65 and older, in the USA are more likely to be injured in fires and are twice as likely to die in house fires than the rest of the population. Adults 75 and older in the USA are three times as likely to die in house fires than the rest of the population. And adults 85 and older are four times as likely to die in house fires than the rest of the population. In fact, in 2015, 40% of fire deaths were older adults despite making up only 15% of the population. This is most likely because older adults are also more likely to have a hard time getting around, hearing, and seeing.
Older adults need to remember all of the fire safety basics that we cover – like smoke alarms, smoking safely, cooking safety, and electrical safety to name just a few – but there’s some other things that they and their families and caregivers need to think of too:
- If you are having trouble getting around during the day when there isn’t an emergency, consider moving your bedroom to the main floor of your house and close to an easy exit, such as a door, if you can. This way if you ever need to evacuate, you will already be on ground level making it easier and faster to escape.
- Make sure that nothing blocks your exits or escape routes or could cause you to slip and/or fall. Make sure that any wheelchair or walking aids that you might use can easily get through as well.
- If you could have a problem escaping from a fire or you use a wheelchair or walker, talk about your your escape plans before you need to use it with our fire department, your family, your friends, and your neighbors.
- Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids, and a phone next to your bed at night where you can easily reach them. Make sure your wheelchair or any necessary walking aids, such as canes are close by too.
- Do not smoke after taking medications that can make you sleepy. Smoking is the leading cause of house fire deaths in America. You might not be able to prevent a fire or escape if your medication has made you fall asleep or makes your reactions slower.
- Be careful around medical oxygen! Never smoke or use a candle where medical oxygen is used – even if it is turned off! Do not strike a match, use a lighter, or any other type of open flame either. Do not use a fireplace, stove or other equipment fueled by gas, kerosene, wood or coal. Open flames and sparks can make medical oxygen explode. Even when the medical oxygen is turned off, it can still catch fire. Keep oil, grease and similar petroleum-based products away from oxygen valves. They can cause a spontaneous explosion.
- If you are deaf or hard of hearing, look into getting a special smoke alarm. There are several options out there these days! First, rather than the high pitched noise we all equate with fire alarms, there are now low pitch options since many people begin losing the upper pitches first. Next, there are smoke alarms that still have a sound alarm but also have a visual alarm – a strobe light that goes off with the alarm. Finally, there is a low pitch alarm that comes with a strobe or text message as well as a bed shaker for at night when a strobe alone might not wake someone up.