Elderly man sips hot coffee outside on a cold afternoon next to a female care worker.

Preparing for the Cold Weather

As many of us bask in the warmth of “the last remnants of summer,” I fear that the cold weather might catch some of us unprepared; especially our elder population. For many seniors who live alone, the winter months -- in particular December, January, and February-- are definitely challenging. Oftentimes, this lack of preparation rears its ugly head in the form of home fires.

Home Fire Facts

Of the nearly 4,000 Americans who die in home fires annually, approximately 1,200 are senior citizens. Most home fires are a result of careless smoking habits, cooking accidents or poor use of alternative heaters (i.e., space heaters). Someone dies in a fire every 34 minutes in this country, while in Canada that figure is one in every 31 hours. Approximately half of all home fire deaths occurred between the hours of 10PM and 6AM, but only 25% of home fires occurred during those same hours. Sadly, every 20 seconds a fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the U.S.

Home Fire Prevention

The key to protecting our elderly (especially those who live alone) is preparation. Planning ahead is the best way to fend off the great potential for a home fire death. Here are a few suggestions to consider when reviewing your care recipient’s needs this winter season:

  • Place a smoke detector on every level of the home
  • Test all smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries once per year
  • Don’t overload any electrical outlet or extension cords
  • Unplug any unused electrical appliances (i.e., hair dryers, toaster ovens, etc.)
  • Portable heaters need plenty of space around them
  • Use spark screens on all fireplaces
  • Get the chimney cleaned annually
  • Don’t leave food unattended on the stove
  • Wear short sleeves and aprons when working in the kitchen
  • Use potholders regularly
  • Don’t use an oven to heat the home
  • Keep important items near the bed for emergencies (i.e., keys, flashlight, robe, slippers, telephone, etc.)
  • Turn off portable heaters at night
  • Never smoke in bed
  • Place 911 stickers on all telephones as a reminder

(The information used in this article was supplied by the Seattle, Washington, Fire Department and the National Fire Protection Association.)

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