Growing senior population faces safety risks

“How old is the oldest person you know?” asks an insurance company in a popular television ad. Turns out the majority of those polled had friends and family in their 80s, 90s and beyond.

A recent Administration of Aging report found that the age-65-and-older population numbered 39.6 million in 2009 (the latest year with data available). And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, by the year 2030, there will be approximately 70 million Americans — or 19 percent of the population — aged 65 and older.

An aging population can face alarming risks. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that 1,000 senior citizens each year die in fires. The National Center for Health Statistics noted that in 2001, 30 percent of fire fatalities were among those 65 and older. Those fires, said Rick Coons, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives, can start in the kitchen, at the electrical outlet, or due to safety issues with auxiliary heaters. “Older adults are extremely vulnerable for a number of reasons,” Coons said. “With aging comes slower reflexes which are impacted even more by medication. Skin also becomes thinner with age…that increases the risk for seniors when there is a fire.”

All of those at Indiana Electric Cooperatives urge seniors — as well as their families and caregivers — to stay vigilant when it comes to electrical safety. “The most important thing for a senior citizen — or anyone for that matter—to remember,” said Coons, “is to make sure the smoke detector is working. Remember to change the batteries twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall.”

Other things to remember:

  • When you’re cooking, make sure you stay at the stove and keep an eye on the skillet or saucepan.
  • If something in the oven catches fire, turn the oven off and keep the door closed.
  • Don’t run electrical cords under rugs, across walkways or through doorways. Don’t secure them to walls or floors with nails, staples or tacks.
  • If an appliance’s cord is dried or cracked, throw the appliance away.
  • Make sure portable heaters have emergency shut-off switches. These switches shut the heaters off when they tip over.
  • Kerosene heaters and space heaters should only be used in open, well-ventilated areas. Keep them at least three feet away from combustible materials such as curtains, furniture and gasoline.
  • Your stove should not be used as a heater.
  • Seniors who have trouble hearing should use smoke detectors that provide a visual signal (like a strobe light) as well as an audible one in the event of a fire.

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United States Fire Administration
The National Center for Health Statistics
U.S. Census Bureau
Administration of Aging
Windsor Fire Protection District