Fire Safety and Older Adults

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), people over the age of 65 are 2.5 times more likely to be injured or die from a kitchen fire than the general population. That is a pretty frightening statistic if you are an adult child of an aging parent who lives alone. So why is the risk so much higher for seniors?

There are five areas where seniors get in to trouble in the kitchen:

  1. Not having a working smoke detector in the house. As important as that life-saving alarm is known to be, estimates are that between 10 – 15% of our nation’s seniors either don’t have a smoke detector or the one they have doesn’t work. That allows kitchen fires to get out of control before the senior may even realize there is a problem.
  2. Along the same lines is not having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Many older adults reach for a kitchen towel to try to extinguish a stove top flame. That can actually make the fire worse and put them in greater danger.
  3. Dementia can make seniors more forgetful. They may leave soup simmering on the stove or a casserole cooking in the oven then walk away and forget about it.
  4. Older equipment that isn’t safe. This is especially true of an older kitchen range. Many of them have on/off dials that are located at the back of the stove top. This forces seniors to reach over burners to turn them off. Loose sleeves can easily drop against the flame or burner and ignite.
  5. Chronic health conditions can cause physical impairments that may make it more difficult for seniors to spot trouble and react quickly. This includes tremors from Parkinson’s disease or loss of dexterity in fingers and hands caused by Osteoarthritis.

What can adult children do to decrease the risk of a kitchen fire for aging parents?

  • Make sure they have working smoke detectors on every level of their home and a small, easy-to-use fire extinguisher in their kitchen. Review with them how to operate both. Make sure to test the smoke alarm batteries when you visit.
  • Remind them not to wear clothing with loose sleeves while cooking, but to instead wear short sleeves or keep long-sleeves tightly rolled up.
  • Consider replacing their stove if they have to reach across burners to turn temperature controls on and off. Most newer ranges have the dials on the front of the stove.
  • New to the consumer safety market but gaining in popularity are stove alarms and stove guards. They use sensors to sound an alarm when a pan is left on the stove or in the oven too long.

 Are you an adult child of an elderly parent?

Have they had a close call with a kitchen fire?

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