Agewise: Fires and Falls – Avoid both

By: Bonnie Vermillion,  Healthy-Steps and Kathi Walker. Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services

Falls are a leading cause of injury and hospital stays for older adults. Avoiding falls may help older adults stay independent and remain in their homes for as long as it is safe. According to the National Safety Council, a home fire is reported every 86 seconds. Implementing fire protection strategies in the home also may prevent fires and save lives. In this article, we discuss some basic tips for avoiding falls and keeping your home safe from fires.

Two important ways to avoid falls is to improve balance and insure that the home is safe.  People need to keep their ankles strong since ankles are the first line of support if you start to lose your balance.  One of the best exercises is to slowly point and flex the foot from the ankle.  Knees need to be able to do a controlled bend.  The best exercise is to have a sturdy chair behind you, and slowly sit down. One should not do this more than four consecutive times or if a doctor has ever said not to do it.   Concentrate on posture.  The ideal posture is ears over shoulders over hips over ankle alignment.  This isn’t possible for everyone due to various conditions, but it is possible for many.  Any variation of this can increase a risk of falling.

Since most falls occur at home, everyone needs to keep their home safe.  In a multiple level house, stairways should be well lighted and have one and preferably two railings.  When going up and down stairs, the best practice is to hold onto at least one railing.  When going down steps, everyone should always be able to see their feet   Best practice is to not carry a clothes basket in front of you while on the stairs.

If something is spilled or an ice cube dropped, it should be cleaned immediately.  Water on a smooth kitchen floor can easily cause a fall.  Beware of wearing socks or bedroom slippers that have no traction since both are a high risk for causing a fall.  All area rugs should have skid-proof backing or be tacked to the floor.  It is often recommended that scatter rugs with no backing should be thrown out.  Installing grab bars in the bathroom where they are needed is a good precaution.  A person 6’5” may need to grab a bar a different place in an emergency than someone 4’9”.

Falls may happen. If someone has an alert system pendant or bracelet, they need to wear it.  A cell phone should be in a pocket or on a low table. If only a land line phone is available, it should be within reach of someone laying on the floor. Clutter will slow down how fast EMS can get to the victim.  Remember when the rescue squad comes, they come with lots of equipment and need a clear path to all parts of your home including the bedroom and bathroom.

Fire prevention is another way of maintaining safety in the home. According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) in 2015 a home fire was reported every 86 seconds. Fires claim the lives of innocent victims and often destroy homes and personal belongings. Following these eight key messages from NFPA can make your home a safer place to live.

  1. If you smoke, smoke outside. Use deep, sturdy ashtrays. Wet cigarette butts and ashes before throwing them out or bury them in sand. Never some in bed.
  2. Give space heaters space. Keep space heaters at least three feet away from objects that can burn. Shut off and unplug heaters when you leave home or go to bed.
  3.  Be kitchen wise. Wear tight-fitting or short sleeves when cooking. Use oven mitts. Never leave cooking unattended. Stand by your pan! If a pan catches fire, slide a lid over it and turn off the burner. Do not cook if you are drowsy from alcohol or medication.
  4. Stop drop, and roll. If your clothes catch on fire: stop (do not run), drop gently to the ground, cover your face with your hands, roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire. Use cool water for 3 to 5 minutes to cool the burn. Get medical help right away.
  5. Smoke alarms save lives. Have smoke alarms installed outside each sleeping area, on every level of your home and in each bedroom. Make sure alarms are interconnected. Have alarms tested according to manufacturer instructions.
  6. Plan and practice your escape route from fire and smoke. If possible, know two ways out of every room in your home and two ways out of your home. Make sure windows and doors open easily. In a fire get out and stay out.
  7. Know your local emergency number. Dial 9 1 1 once you are safely out of the house.
  8. Plan escapes based on your abilities. Have a telephone in your bedroom and post emergency numbers nearby.

The old adage holds true. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is far better to avoid falls and prevent fires in the home than dealing with the consequences. People of all ages can take steps now to live healthier lives and promote home safety.