An overwhelming majority of seniors wish to age in place whether that be in their current home, a smaller living space, with relatives or in a facility.
The same is true for those of us who are not yet seniors. We often hear statistics that put the number at 80% of us or higher that wish to age in place.
But are their homes ready to keep them safe and healthy?
There are many things that we can do to make that a reality including keeping our bodies as healthy and functional as possible, preventing chronic diseases or managing those diseases that we have while keeping our minds active.
Once you are in the home of your dreams, there are things that can be done to help make the home safe and secure.
A smoke detector/fire alarm will sense smoke in the area and alert when danger is present either audible, visually or both 24 hours a day.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes without working smoke alarms.
Smoke alarms can be installed in your home, using batteries for power or being wired into your house’s electrical system. If they have batteries, they need to be checked for proper functioning regularly. Even those wired in will have a battery backup system that will need to be checked. If it is powered by a 9 volt battery, it is recommended to check it every month, replacing the battery yearly and the entire unit every 8-10 years. The same schedule is true for wired alarms. Your senior may hear a characteristic chirp when the battery needs changing. We are often reminded to change the battery in the smoke alarm. For many a good reminder is to do it each time we change our clocks for daylight saving time.
Smoke alarms are not expensive and can be installed relatively easily by many do-it-yourselfers. They should be placed in particular areas of your home, including every floor and the basement, near the bedrooms (in each bedroom if practical) and kitchen. Fire officials prefer smoke alarms be placed both inside and outside the sleeping area. Smoke rises so be sure to install the alarms at the proper height according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Some fire departments will install home smoke alarms at no cost to your senior so contact your local department to see if they have such a program.
Fire officials warn that we should never disable a smoke alarm in the kitchen but instead ventilate the area to clear the smoke putting the alarm on ‘hush’ not off.
If your senior is hard of hearing or would otherwise benefit from a strobe alarm in addition to the high pitched frequency of the usual smoke alarm, those are also available for home use.
Does your senior’s home have a portable fire extinguisher? Do they know how to use it if needed? Has it been checked to see if it is still functioning?
A fire extinguisher should be used when the fire is contained and can be controlled. Remember to always evacuate the home and contact the fire department. It is recommended to have a portable fire extinguisher near the exit door to ensure that you can leave safely and get help.
Check out our Family Caregiver Video Tip about safety measures and proper techniques for using a fire extinguisher.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
These are devices that can detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas in your senior’s home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. It is very important to install a detector because carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer because it is an odorless gas that goes undetected until the damage is done.
CO is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas produced when carbon-based fuels, including gasoline, natural gas, propane, coal, oil or wood are burned without enough oxygen. CO poisoning can happen slowly over time when small amounts of gas are present in the air or quickly when an event occurs that releases a great deal of the gas. Winter months are especially dangerous when portable gas or oil heaters and generators are used without proper ventilation.
Carbon monoxide detectors will sound an alarm when gas is found so that the area can be properly ventilated and the source of the gas repaired. These units can be battery powered or hooked to a source of electricity. If they are powered by batteries, you will need to check the charge as battery life varies greatly. There are detectors that are installed directly into heating systems that will contact emergency personnel when CO reaches a level that is dangerous. CO detectors can be purchased in combination with a smoke alarm.
In the home, some common sources of CO include open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage without proper ventilation or insulation to the home.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, tiredness, nausea, loss of consciousness, pains in the chest or stomach, difficulty breathing, or vision problems. Long term exposure can result in brain damage.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Surgeon General’s Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon.”
Did you know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer? Radon is a radioactive gas that causes cancer. You can’t see, taste or smell radon and it may be in the air of your senior’s home. One in three homes tested contain higher than acceptable levels of radon, it is found in every state and is estimated to be in 8 million US homes.
Radon comes from a natural breakdown of uranium found in igneous rock and soil and in some cases well water. Radon released into the groundwater, soil and building materials of your senior’s home is in the air and your senior inhales the gas unknowingly exposing themselves to health risk.
Because it takes years to realize you are exposed, the only way to be aware of radon in your senior’s home is through testing. There are radon test kits and monitors you can purchase to check your senior’s home yourself or get a professional to test. If there are unsafe levels found in the home, these can be corrected.
- Security cameras – seniors can get a good view of who is around the house and you can monitor remotely to be sure that your senior is safe at home alone.
- Safes and cash boxes – if your senior keeps valuables and cash in the home and you are afraid they may be targets, a safe will keep their valuables secure when other people are in and out of the home to provide services.
- Motion sensing lights – there are lights that fit into existing sockets that will go on and off with motion. They can be helpful for the front or back porch or in hallways, closets or the basement or wherever your senior may have difficulty getting the light on in the middle of the night causing a fall.
- Peepholes – easy to add to an existing door at just the right height so your senior can see who is knocking before they open the door to a stranger.
- Security doors – specially designed door to withstand forced entry if the neighborhood they choose to live in is not as safe as it once was.
- Medical alerts – signalers that can alert emergency personnel in the event of a fall or medical emergency can be lifesaving. Many personal emergency response systems can be remotely monitored by family members.
- Programmable Thermostat – once set you can be sure that your senior’s home is maintained at a comfortable and healthy temperature all throughout the year. Many newer devices allow remote setting and monitoring using a smartphone.
Newer technology and advances in consumer electronics mean that we can keep our senior loved ones safe at home a little bit longer. These are just some of the items you will want to consider and get installed but also update if your senior’s are showing signs of age and malfunction.
If you have more ideas for senior safety, we would love to hear from you.