By Cheryll Elliott (pictured) and Meron Worku
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, older adults are at the greatest risk for fire related injuries and death. While older adults ac- counted for 14 percent of the population, in 2013, they accounted for 36 percent of all fire related deaths and were two and a half times more likely to die in a fire.
Space heater and cooking related accidents are the most common causes of fire among our older adult population. Fires occurred when heaters were too close to beds or users forgot to unplug or shut off a heater when leaving the home or going to bed.
Space heaters should be at least three feet away from any other objects and should be unplugged when going to bed or leaving the house. Heaters should be plugged directly to the wall; extension cords or power strips should never be used.
Cooking accidents have occurred when older adults leave the kitchen and forget to turn off a burner. Avoid cooking
related accidents by using a timer, oven mitt or wooden spoon to help remind you that you have something cooking. Do not cook when drowsy. Wear tight-fitting or short-sleeved clothing when cooking.
Unintentional injuries are a leading cause of death among adults over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency rooms for fall-related injuries and at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures.
Falls are the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries, hip fractures and a common rea- son for older adults to be admitted to rehabilitation or nursing facilities. Falls are preventable with some simple strategies.
Ensure that home and outdoor surroundings are well lit and remove tripping hazards. Household items such as rugs, electric cords, books and shoes can make a person trip easily and cause a major fall. Older adults also should ensure walking areas are free of clutter, and they should use non-slip mats while taking a shower or bath, as most falls occur in the bathroom.
Regular exercise can be an antidote to falls. Exercising regularly helps to build strength, improve balance and coordination. Whether exercising or simply walking, wear comfortable, sturdy and well-fitting shoes, and be aware of environmental hazards such as cobble- stones or uneven pavement to avoid tripping.
Finally, take your time when standing up from a chair or getting out of bed to gain balance be- fore walking.
As the population ages, preventing fires and falls is crucial. The Alexandria Division of Aging and Adult Services and Alexandria Fire Department are participating in the National Fire Prevention Association’s “Remembering When: Fire and Fall Prevention” training program to educate older adults and their families on preventing fire and falls.
Contact the division of aging and adult services at 703-746-5999 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a fire and fall prevention training session for your group.
For a comprehensive list of fire and fall prevention tips, go to www.nfpa.org.
The writers are family services specialists with the city division of aging and adult services.