Fire Safety for Older Adults

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Updated: May 13, 2018

senior fire safety

Regardless of your age, you should have measures in place in case of a fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, adults age 65 and over are twice as likely to be injured or killed by fire when compared to the general population.  Regardless of if you have an aging parent living in your home or on their own, precautions need to be taken to ensure maximum safety in the event of a fire.

The majority of fatal fires occur when people are asleep.  Unfortunately, smoke exposure can cause you to fall into an even deeper sleep, rather than alert your senses to the fire around you.  Therefore, it is optimal that you have a smoke detector in every room of the home to emit a mechanical warning to alert sleeping individuals of a fire.  If your loved one is hard of hearing, you can install a smoke alarm that uses flashing lights as well as the loud horn to alert them.

If possible, consider installing an automatic sprinkler system in your home; they are so efficient that they can actually extinguish a home fire before the fire department arrives.  If at all possible, have your elderly loved one sleep in a room on the ground floor, which would allow them to escape the house more easily.  You should also make sure a cell phone with emergency numbers programmed into it is right at their bedside each night so they can contact the fire department if they are trapped. Advanced medical alert technologies with accelerometer uses in automatic fall detection may provide some help signaling the monitoring center during a fire escape due to erratic movement, but that should not be considered reliable protection.

Next, you should test the overall safety of your home.  Make sure that all doors and windows can be easily opened in the event they are needed for escape.  If you live somewhere which has security bars installed in the windows, you should find out if they have emergency release devices built in.  If you have any windows which have been accidentally sealed shut with paint over time, contact an expert to have this corrected.

Next, you should actually have regular drills in which you practice what you would do in the event of a house fire.  This is especially important if your elderly loved one would need assistance leaving the house.  You should designate a specific person to assist them in this situation, and also designate a backup in case the original designee is not there at the time.

Finally, if your elderly loved one has a mental or physical disability, you have additional things to consider.

  • Limited Mobility– Check every exit in your home to see if your loved one can move through it using a wheelchair or walker. You may also consider attaching a small fire extinguisher to your loved one’s wheelchair for use in the event of an emergency.
  • Blind or Visually Impaired– Have your visually impaired loved one practice a minimum of two different escape routes from the home on a regular basis. Place tactile markers along the baseboards of the routes in the event that your loved one has to crawl on the floor to avoid inhaling too much smoke.
  • Alzheimer’s or Dementia– Regularly practice escape routes with your loved one as it is possible that if a fire occurs, instinct will take over and allow them to guide themselves to safety.  Otherwise, it’s important to alert your local fire department if someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia lives in your home and could possibly be home alone in a fire situation.